Friday, 14 December 2018

A Curious Beginning


Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Veronica Speedwell series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley Books
First Published: 2016
Opening Lines: "June 1887 - I stared down into the open grave and wished that I could summon a tear. Violent weeping would have been in exceedingly poor taste, but Miss Nell Harbottle had been my guardian for the whole of my life, and a tear or two would have been a nice gesture of respect."

Book Description from GoodReadsLondon, 1887.

After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.
 


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: A couple of years ago I read and reviewed the second book in the Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series (A Perilous Undertaking), eagerly followed by the third book (A Treacherous Curse). Since the fourth book (A Dangerous Collaboration) is coming out in March 2019 (I already have my copy!), I figured it was time to go back to the beginning and see where it all began.

Fans of Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series know that her characters are intriguing, her wit is strong and her writing, even stronger. So, I wasn't surprised when I quickly became smitten with this new series featuring main characters Veronica Speedwell and the dashing Stoker.

Veronica Speedwell is the kind of gal I'd want to hang out with. She is a veritable force to be reckoned with and while she has been raised as a lady in Victorian England, Veronica doesn't follow the rules of polite society. She's feisty, full of sass and as a lepidopterist she's undoubtedly smart (I feel smarter just knowing what a lepidopterist is!). She lives her life according to her own terms. She is who she is and to hell with anyone else's issues with propriety! Looove her! 

While I love her devil-may-care attitude and rampant curiosity, I also enjoy how Raybourn incorporates witty banter between Veronica and the mysterious Stoker into a story that also features a strong historical backdrop and a good mystery. The progressive and evolving relationship between Veronica and Stoker has easily made them one of my favourite literary duos. 

A Curious Beginning is a strong start to the series that focuses on the mystery surrounding Veronica's back story but also entices readers curious about Stoker's murky past. Even though I knew the big reveal from reading the later books first, I still very much enjoyed the adventure. Fans of mystery, strong female characters and historical fiction should be eager to get their hands on this series. I'd recommend starting the series with A Curious Beginning.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Vegetarian Lasagna

Lasagna is one of those dishes that I always think takes a lot of time … until I actually make one and wonder why I don't do it more often.  While there seems to be quite a few ingredients involved in lasagna making, it really is an easy meal to whip up and is great to freeze for hot lunches or weekday meals.

This time I opted for a vegetarian version. Super tasty but doesn't feel as heavy as lasagna with the beasties in it. The flavours really come together well and it's also a great way to use up all those veggies in your fridge!



1 tbsp oil (I use grapeseed)
1 medium white onion - diced
5 large mushrooms - diced
2 medium carrots - peeled and diced finely
1 medium zucchini - finely diced
1 cup roasted-red peppers - diced
1 can (680mL) tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 (500g) container of cottage cheese (2 cups)
1 egg
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried parsley
lasagna noodles (oven ready) (approx. 8-10 noodles)
2 cups marble cheese (or mozzarella), shredded

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, mushrooms and carrots and cook until onions are translucent.  Add zucchini and continue cooking for 3 minutes.  Add roasted red peppers.



Add tomato sauce, water, basil, oregano, pepper and salt.  Mix well. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer.


Meanwhile, add the cottage cheese to a medium bowl. If desired, use a pastry cutter and smash the cottage cheese into smaller bits.  Add egg, Parmesan cheese (fresh or the canned stuff) and dried parsley.  Mix well.

In a 9x13-inch baking pan (I use glass), ladle some of the sauce, followed by enough of the oven-ready lasagna noodles to cover the sauce (break pieces if you have to).  Layer with more sauce followed by the cottage cheese layer. Spread the cottage cheese mixture to the edges.  Top with more noodles and the remaining sauce.

Note: You may have extra sauce leftover. Just cool it, put it in a freezer bag, label it and freeze for a later meal.

Grease some tin foil with a bit of oil (to prevent the cheese from sticking to it) and cover the lasagna.  Place baking pan onto a baking sheet with edges (it may overflow while baking) and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes to brown the cheese a bit.

Serve immediately, or what I like to do is cool the lasagna, then reheat it for 45 minutes at 375F for the next day's meal.  Extras can be portioned off and frozen for up to 2 months for great weekday lunches.


Monday, 10 December 2018

The Brutal Telling


Author: Louise Penny
Genre: Mystery, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 480
Source: Local Public Library
Series: #5 in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series
Publisher: Headline
First Published: 2010
Opening Lines: "All of them? Even the children?" The fireplace sputtered and crackled and swallowed his gasp. "Slaughtered?" … "Worse".

Book Description from GoodReads: An ingenious and riveting mystery of murder, revenge and a cold-blooded killer, this is the internationally bestselling author's finest yet.

In the heart of the forest, two men sit at midnight, haunted by fear of discovery. In a few hours' time, one of them will be dead, his secrets following him to the grave... When C. I. Gamache is called to investigate a murder in a picturesque Three Pines, he finds a village in chaos. A man has been found, bludgeoned to death, and there is no sign of a weapon, a motive or even the dead man's name. Gamache and his colleagues, Inspector Beauvoir and Agent Isabelle Lacoste, start to dig under the skin of this peaceful haven for clues. They slowly uncover a trail of stolen treasure, mysterious codes and a shameful history that begins to shed light on the victim's identity - and point to a terrifying killer.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: While I liked going back to Three Pines, this fifth installment of the popular Canadian mystery series was slower paced, seemed more complicated than it had to be and had an ending that was less of a surprise and more of a sad conclusion that was eluded to for much of the book. It was okay, but not a great read.

The main pull for me towards this series has always been the inhabitants of Three Pines, a small fictional village south of Montreal which has a penchant for dead bodies.


"'Can't imagine what Gamache thinks of us,' said Myrna. 'Every time he shows up there's a body.'

'Every Quebec village has a vocation,' said Clara. 'Some make cheese, some wine, some pots. We produce bodies.'"

I particularly enjoy the often vulgar and opinionated old poet, Ruth, while others, I'm looking at you Peter, aren't favs of mine. Peter continues to whine about his lack of success while trying to sabotage his wife Clara's burgeoning career which grates on my last frayed nerve. I wouldn't be opposed to him being the next village victim. Just sayin'. Unfortunately, this book focuses less on our favourite inhabitants, and more on the victim, a person the reader has never met.

While not my favourite book in the series, I appreciated learning more about one of our most famous Canadian artists, the beauty and culture of Haida Gwaii and I enjoyed the addition of the new young police investigator into Gamache's ranks to spruce things up a bit.

With its slower paced mystery and a slightly lacklustre Gamache, this wasn't my favourite book in the series. The mystery didn't feel as tightly woven as others and the focus seemed to meander too much which influenced the tension. I also found it frustrating that readers were left with a couple of unanswered questions.

While this book didn't resonate with me as much as others in the series, I remain a Louise Penny fan and look forward to picking up this series once in awhile.



Thursday, 6 December 2018

No Fixed Address



Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: Middle School Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 280
Source
: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tundra Books (Penguin Random House Canada)
First Published: September 11, 2018
Opening Lines: "My leg jiggled up and down. I shifted from one bum cheek to the other. My palms felt damp and my heart was pounding. "I've never been interrogated before."

Book Description from GoodReads: From beloved Governor General Literary Award-winning author Susin Nielsen comes a touching and funny middle-grade story about family, friendship and growing up when you're one step away from homelessness.

Felix Knuttson, twelve, is an endearing kid with an incredible brain for trivia. His mom Astrid is loving but unreliable; she can't hold onto a job, or a home. When they lose their apartment in Vancouver, they move into a camper van, just for August, till Astrid finds a job. September comes, they're still in the van; Felix must keep "home" a secret and give a fake address in order to enroll in school. Luckily, he finds true friends. As the weeks pass and life becomes grim, he struggles not to let anyone know how precarious his situation is. When he gets to compete on a national quiz show, Felix is determined to win -- the cash prize will bring them a home. Their luck is about to change! But what happens is not at all what Felix expected.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Susin Nielsen, you've done it again!! A few years ago I unabashedly gushed over her We Are All Made of Molecules so, readers, be prepared because there's a strong chance of gushing in the forecast for her latest book, No Fixed Address (a book I read in one day). The story focuses on the life Felix, a 12-year-old boy who loves trivia, his gerbil, Horatio and his mom, Astrid. They're a regular, small family except that they live in a van. They are one of the unseen homeless.

With No Fixed Address, Nielsen has written a touching and revelatory read about the issue of homelessness in Canada. Readers witness the lengths Felix will go to ensure that no one finds out that he's homeless. His mother, Astrid, for reasons of her own, has instilled a fear of the Ministry of Children and Family Development in her son and insists that this is a secret they must keep until they can get back on their feet which she keeps promising will be 'any day now'.

One of my favourite things about Nielsen's work is the diversity of her characters. Once again, Nielsen provides a diverse cast which showcases the wonderful heterogeneity of Canada. As Felix says
"I'm fifty percent Swedish, twenty-five percent Haitian, twenty-five percent French. Add it up and it equals one hundred percent Canadian."

But while there is an assortment of backgrounds/beliefs/ethnicities to her characters, the focus remains on the issues, the plot and her complex main characters.

Felix is smart, kind, quirky and has more on his plate than most kids his age. With more than a little ingenuity and strength, he struggles to take care of his mom, get his own basic needs met, go to school and hide their secret. He finds strength in his friendships with Dylan and the very Hermione-like Winnie Wu, his love of learning and his plan to compete on his favourite trivia show and win enough money to bring him and Astrid out of poverty. Through it all, you know Felix loves his mom, but you also see his growing frustration with their situation and his inability to care for himself during his mother's long emotional 'Slumps'.

Astrid is a complicated character. You know she won't be in the running for Mother of the Year, nor is she the worst of the bunch, but you understand her fierce love for her son even though her behaviours were deeply flawed and often unethical/illegal.

This story will tug at your heart strings and will open your eyes to the issue of homelessness in Canada and how easily one's circumstances can change from home owner to homeless. Sprinkled liberally with great Canadian culture, this is a touching story about poverty, friendship, family and hope.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Five Feet Apart


Author: Rachael Lippincott
Genre: Teen Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
First Published: November 20, 2018
Opening Lines: "Stella - I trace the outline of my sister's drawing, lungs molded from a sea of flowers. Petals burst out from every edge of the twin ovals in soft inks, deep whites, even heather blues, but somehow each one has a uniqueness, a vibrancy that feels like it'll bloom forever."

Book Description from GoodReadsCan you love someone you can never touch?

Stella Grant likes to be in control—even though her totally out of control lungs have sent her in and out of the hospital most of her life. At this point, what Stella needs to control most is keeping herself away from anyone or anything that might pass along an infection and jeopardize the possibility of a lung transplant. Six feet apart. No exceptions.

The only thing Will Newman wants to be in control of is getting out of this hospital. He couldn’t care less about his treatments, or a fancy new clinical drug trial. Soon, he’ll turn eighteen and then he’ll be able to unplug all these machines and actually go see the world, not just its hospitals.

Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment.

What if they could steal back just a little bit of the space their broken lungs have stolen from them? Would five feet apart really be so dangerous if it stops their hearts from breaking too?


My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: I was initially drawn to this book simply due to its stunningly beautiful cover. I mean, c'mon! It's gorgeous and I totally judge a book by its cover.

This is a story about Stella and Will, two terminally ill teens who live with Cystic Fibrosis. It's a bittersweet love story because Stella and Will have a big obstacle between them - they can never touch or they risk becoming even sicker and possibly dying. This book has some great plot points and while I love how it brings CF into the spotlight, I didn't quite connect emotionally with the two main characters. Almost but not quite. 

Going into this book I figured I'd be a hot, blubbering mess and while there were a couple of points that I got a little veklempt, this wasn't the tear gusher I had expected it to be. It had an insta-romance feel (so not a fan) because it all happens in only TWO weeks! And while I did enjoy the sprinkling of banter between the two sick teens, I needed more time to buy into their bond. But I do give high grades for incorporating the parents' POVs and taking a look at the hard working hospital staff who almost become like family to these sick teens.

I'm happy to report that Five Feet Apart is being made into a movie (starring cutie Cole Sprouse from Riverdale fame!) and from the trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtgCqMZofqM) I think that it might fare better in cinematic form. I can't believe I just said that, but it's true. Five Feet Part is a simple story that happens over a very short period of time and I think seeing Will and Stella's connection on screen may help get me on board.

This is a cute romance that brings a focus on the struggles and fears of people living with CF and their loved ones. It's a simple and predictable story and while some of Stella and Will's choices made me go 'say wha?!', overall this was a good read and perfect for fans who want a tragic teen love story.


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

Monday, 3 December 2018

Evergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners


Author: Gretchen Anthony
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Park Row
First Published: Oct 16, 2018
Opening Lines: "One would think being treated like a daft old Betty by a police officer with mustard on his lapel would top Violet's all-time list of humiliations. But after the fall of Gomorrah she'd just witnessed, it barely registered."

Book Description from GoodReads: Dearest loved ones, far and near--evergreen tidings from the Baumgartners!

Violet Baumgartner has opened her annual holiday letter the same way for the past three decades. And this year she's going to throw her husband, Ed, a truly perfect retirement party, one worthy of memorializing in her upcoming letter. But the event becomes a disaster when, in front of two hundred guests, Violet learns her daughter Cerise has been keeping a shocking secret from her, shattering Violet's carefully constructed world.

In an epic battle of wills, Violet goes to increasing lengths to wrest back control of her family, infuriating Cerise and snaring their family and friends in a very un-Midwestern, un-Baumgartner gyre of dramatics. And there will be no explaining away the consequences in this year's Baumgartner holiday letter...

Full of humor, emotion and surprises at every turn, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners brings to life a remarkable cast of quirky, deeply human characters who must learn to adapt to the unconventional, or else risk losing one another. This is the story of a family falling to pieces--and the unexpected way they put it all back together.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: This holiday-themed novel focuses on a small group of friends, particularly the Baumgartner family, whose matriarch, Violet, includes a family letter in her annual Christmas cards showcasing her family's accomplishments and happenings over the past year which are interspersed throughout the story.

The story centres around Violet who, unfortunately, I found to be overbearing, manipulative and annoying who gets stuck on one issue regarding her daughter for too much of the book. She quickly became a caricature of a busybody matriarch - one that could easily give lessons on passive aggression for she has honed it into an art form.

The bones of this book were good, but it didn't come together for me. More time needed to be spent developing characters (Ed and Barb, in particular) and giving readers a mystery they can sink their teeth into. Instead, I think this book was trying to be too many things and it became convoluted. It's a Contemporary/Women's Fiction with a mystery that is too obvious, has a fairly strong Christian theme and an attempt at humour which didn't quite get there. Unfortunately, I felt the book was predictable and too slowly paced which lead me to skim much of the last half of the book.

Overall, this light family drama was a miss for me but readers who enjoy a lighter read with a Christian theme about the sometimes complicated bonds between mothers and daughters may enjoy this book.

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

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway


Author: Ruth Ware
Genre: Mystery
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 384
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
First Published: May 29, 2018
Opening Lines: "The magpies are back. It's strange to think how much I hate them, when I first came to the house."

Book Description from GoodReadsOn a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the centre of it.
 


My Rating: 2.5 stars (just okay)

My Review: After waiting a few days to think about this book I'm still kind of at a loss on how to describe my feelings for it. It had a good creepy, gothic vibe with the old, decrepit Trepassen house, its sinister housekeeper and a long-held family secrets but, in the end I'd call this a family drama with a hint of mystery that I kind of enjoyed. Sort of.

The book starts out strong, enticing readers with a mystery, but the energy soon falters for much of the middle only ramping up in the last 60 pages or so. I wasn't a fan of how the plot relies heavily on coincidences and lack of communication between characters and felt there were a couple of scenes that didn't seem to add much to the overall plot.

There are a fair number of characters (with rather dull dialogue) but the men folk, unfortunately, got muddled in my head due to their lack of depth. And if I can be a little petty, I hated Harriet's nickname, Hal. In the beginning, I kept thinking of Hal as an old guy (Hal Linden of Barney Miller fame kept popping into my head when Hal would be mentioned).
This Hal kept popping into my head!
Overall, there's gothic atmosphere, some mystery, a strange, dysfunctional family but for all these factors that I usually jump all over, the book was lackluster and the story far too sloooooww. Ware's plot was intriguing, but I spent most of the time hoping it would catch up with my enthusiasm (sadly, that never happened). After giving a similar rating to Ware's Women in Cabin 10 last year, I think Ruth Ware and I just aren't meant to be bookish besties. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

A Ladder to the Sky


Author: John Boyne
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 366
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Hogarth Press
First Published: Nov 13, 2018
Opening Lines: "West Berlin - From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany. It had been so many years since I'd last been there, after all, that it was difficult to know what memories might be stirred up by my return."

Book Description from GoodReads: The new novel from the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Heart's Invisible Furies, a seductive Highsmithian psychodrama following one brilliant, ruthless man who wills top at nothing in his pursuit of fame.

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn't have is talent - but he's not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don't need to be his own. 

Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful - but desperately lonely - older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice's first novel.


Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Going into this book, I knew I had high expectations since Boyne's previous book, The Heart's Invisible Furies, easily became one of my all-time favourite reads. As soon as A Ladder to the Sky's publication date was released, I got my hands on a copy. I wanted to, and expected to, enjoy this book but it fell short for me.

There are several things I enjoyed about A Ladder to the Sky. The writing is strong, the premise about the dark and manipulative ambition of a calculating sociopath was interesting and I enjoyed how the story is told via various characters who Maurice manipulates. But the lack of emotional intensity and connection to the characters, a few of whom felt one-dimensional, greatly influenced my experience with this book.

I also had issues with Maurice, a sociopath who readers are expected to believe can get away with all sorts of immoral, malicious choices due to his fantastic good looks. Things just seemed to work out for him too easily and it didn't help that he lacked a redeeming quality I could hold on to. Just when I thought he had one, I was proven wrong.

While I liked getting a glimpse into the life of an author and the literary world, the plot felt predictable and I didn't feel invested in Maurice's life. That said, I remain a fan of John Boyne even though this book didn't quite reach the sky for this reader. 

Monday, 26 November 2018

Becoming


Author: Michelle Obama
Genre: Autobiography
Type: Hardcover and e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library (Hardcover), Audible.ca (audio)
Publisher: Crown Publishing
First Published: November 13, 2018
Opening Lines: "March 2017 - When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple. I wanted a dog. I wanted a house that had stairs in it -- two floors for one family. I wanted, for some reason, a four-door station wagon instead of the two-door Buick that was my father's pride and joy."

Book Description from GoodReads: An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoire by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This book was a joy to read. For years I've been a fan of Michelle Obama - I've always liked her strength, her passion to help others, her positivity and her strong devotion to her family. This book just made me appreciate her even more.

Previously, I've never simultaneously read a book in two different formats, but I was glad I did for this book. I balanced reading some chapters in the hardcover edition (when I had time to sit down), and others from the e-audiobook that Michelle Obama herself reads. While I enjoyed the pictures in the paper edition, hearing Ms. Obama read her life story to me was the icing on the proverbial cake.

She is an engaging narrator and throughout the book her warmth, humour, compassion and honesty shine through. She is the Michelle Obama you've seen in interviews and with Becoming, she brings readers into her personal triumphs, losses, insecurities and struggles from her early days as a young Black girl growing up in the southside area of Chicago, to her love of education and her years at Princeton, to meeting a fellow lawyer with a 'weird name' and her eventual role as First Lady of the United States. Readers are privy to the Obama's early years as a couple, Barack's increasing involvement in politics, parenting two daughters together, his run for the presidency of the US and their eight years living in the fish bowl that is the White House.

Michelle Obama has always seemed like a regular kinda gal to me. She's a mom, wife and daughter who just happens to be living an extraordinary life. As FLOTUS, she has lived under public scrutiny trying to balance family life with the daunting workload that she bore as First Lady. She wanted to give their children a reasonably normal childhood and use her role as First Lady to make positive changes in the country she so clearly loves. She gives readers a bird's eye look at her life in the White House - the unique experiences made available to her as well as the limitations to her freedom and I appreciate that she doesn't hold back on her opinions on some of the issues that have plagued and still plague the US.

Throughout the book Michelle Obama is well-spoken, genuine and she comes off as relatable and even inspirational as she shares personal anecdotes that showcase her fears, loves, struggles and accomplishments. Some of her anecdotes had me grinning, relating to her thoughts as a wife and mother, while several caused me to tear up as I listened to her speak about the devastation and loss her country has faced.

This is a moving, powerful and reflective book that readers, especially women and those who have ever felt unseen and ignored, will appreciate. You don't have to be a Democrat (or even an American - says this proud Canadian) to enjoy this book. If you weren't a fan of Michelle Obama's before, you will be after reading this book.


Saturday, 24 November 2018

Once Upon A River


Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Historical Fiction, Folklore, Fantasy ...
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria (Simon and Schuster)
First Published: December 4, 2018
Opening Lines: "There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a day's walk from the source. There were a great many inns along the upper reaches of the Thames at the time of this story and you could get drunk in all of them, but beyond the usual ale and cider each one had some particular pleasure to offer."

Book Description from GoodReadsA dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Once Upon A River is a well-written, deeply atmospheric novel and, as its title suggests, has a strong sense of folklore. One might even call it more of a gothic fairy tale. At the heart of the story is a mystery surrounding the identity of the young girl who is found in the Thames and pronounced dead … until she isn't. 

Within the first few pages I realized I was in for a treat. Readers will immediately be drawn to Setterfield's wonderful writing, vivid descriptions of the setting and her diverse group of characters which drives the story much more than the mystery. Much like the Thames itself, the story meanders as the various tributary subplots and characters are introduced but if readers can wade through these slower points in the middle, they'll realize that these aspects all have purpose and are given an incredible amount of depth. 

This gothic folktale stands out for its vivid characterizations, imaginative plot and hint of fantastical things with Setterfield's enchanting storytelling abilities easily being the highlight of this book for me.  Recommended for fans of Setterfield's first book, The Thirteenth Tale.

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

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Watching You


Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: Dec 26, 2018
Opening Lines: "March 24 - DC Rose Pelham kneels down; she can see something behind the kitchen door, just in front of the trash can. For a minute she thinks it's a bloodstained twist of tissue, maybe, or an old bandage."

Book Description from GoodReadsMelville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam.


My Rating: 3 stars (aka 'a good read')

Lisa Jewell is one of my go-to authors so when I saw she had a new book coming out in late 2018 I jumped at the chance to review an advanced copy. A suspenseful novel set in England with loads of secrets and snoopy neighbours?? Yes please!

The book begins with the introduction of its MANY characters (which may take readers time to sort out). Several of the characters share their points of view and while they don't seem to have a lot in common, as the book progresses, readers become privy to their connections and their sometimes lurid pasts.  Ooooo, right? The pacing of the book is on the slower side and while Jewell draws her readers in and gradually increases the tension, I found there were less twists that I would have expected considering all the secrets. 

Watching You has an atmospheric feel with its solid, creepy vibe thanks to all of the neighbours spying on each other, but it was more predictable than Jewell's other books and left only one person, in my mind, who could be the culprit (I was right). There is a large cast of characters but none, except for maybe Freddie, stood out for me and I found some of the connections between characters to be too rushed to be believable. 

Overall, this is a good read but not as great as her previous reads. While I won't be adding it to my long list of "Lisa Jewell Books That I Adore" (which includes Then She Was Gone, The House We Grew Up In and The Girls in the Garden), Lisa Jewell continues to be an author whose books I eagerly await. 

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

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