Wednesday, 30 May 2018

They Come In All Colors

Author: Malcolm Hansen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Published: Atria Books
First Published: May 29, 2018
First Line: "I only have to close my eyes to see that son of a bitch Zukowski, passed out like he was on the dining hall floor".

Book Description from GoodReadsMalcolm Hansen arrives on the scene as a bold new literary voice with his stunning debut novel. Alternating between the Deep South and New York City during the 1960s and early '70s, They Come in All Colors follows a biracial teenage boy who finds his new life in the big city disrupted by childhood memories of the summer when racial tensions in his hometown reached a tipping point.
It's 1968 when fourteen-year-old Huey Fairchild begins high school at Claremont Prep, one of New York City’s most prestigious boys’ schools. His mother had uprooted her family from their small hometown of Akersburg, Georgia, a few years earlier, leaving behind Huey’s white father and the racial unrest that ran deeper than the Chattahoochee River.

But for our sharp-tongued protagonist, forgetting the past is easier said than done. At Claremont, where the only other non-white person is the janitor, Huey quickly realizes that racism can lurk beneath even the nicest school uniform. After a momentary slip of his temper, Huey finds himself on academic probation and facing legal charges. With his promising school career in limbo, he begins examining his current predicament at Claremont through the lens of his childhood memories of growing up in Akersburg during the Civil Rights Movement—and the chilling moments leading up to his and his mother's flight north.

With Huey’s head-shaking antics fueling this coming-of-age narrative, the story triumphs as a tender and honest exploration of race, identity, family, and homeland.

My Rating: 2 stars (ie. 'meh')

My Review: As soon as I read the blurb on this book I was eager to get my hands on a copy. It's a coming of age story about a bi-racial boy who witnesses and experiences prejudice in his hometown in Georgia in the 1960's (although not quite understanding what he was witnessing), and later, in the 1970's, as a teen in NYC as he attends an all-white prestigious high school. 

Unfortunately, I struggled on and off for two weeks to get through this book. I didn't connect with the story or the main character and found the author's method of telling the story disjointed, hard to follow and the lack of quotation marks didn't help matters. While I think the author was trying for a look at civil rights and racism through the eyes of a child (kind of like John Boyne looked at the Holocaust through the eyes of young Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), I don't think that was achieved here. I felt it lacked emotion, connection to its characters and fluidity in the storytelling. 

While others may enjoy this book more, They Come In All Colors just wasn't for me. 

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

Curse the Day

Author: Annabel Chase
Genre: Supernatural, Cozy Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Spellbound series
Source: Reedsy
Series: #1 in the Spellbound paranormal cozy mystery series
Publisher: Red Palm Press
First Published: January 7, 2017
First Line: "Four point seven miles to go."

Book Description from GoodReadsWelcome to Spellbound, where paranormal is the new normal. 
The only magic Emma Hart believes in is caffeine and the power of the dryer to lose one sock per load. A public interest lawyer buried under a mound of student debt, Emma’s whole life has been one turn of bad luck after another.

Her streak seems to continue when she gets lost on the way to see a client in the remote Pocono Mountains. A chance encounter with a suicidal angel lands her in Spellbound, a town where supernaturals have been cursed to remain for centuries--probably not the best time for Emma to discover that she's actually a witch.

Between the recent murder of the town’s public defender, a goblin accused of theft, remedial witch classes, and the attention of one smoking hot vampire, Emma struggles to navigate this unfamiliar terrain without losing her mind...or her life. 

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: Curse the Day is a cozy mystery set within a supernatural world and features some rather unique inhabitants. One doesn't have to believe in fairies, wereferrets, witches or gnomes, but it can't hurt!

Emma Hart, finds herself stranded in Spellbound, a cursed town where various supernaturals have been stuck for centuries. Fans of magic and the supernatural, who enjoy a lighter read will enjoy getting to know the residents of Spellbound and seeing how Emma tries to fit in and find her way in this strange new world. 

Since it is the first book in a series and has a unique location, a lot of page time is spent describing Spellbound, and its quirky residents. Thankfully, the author helps readers keep track of who's who. But there's a lot going on in this little book and, if I'm being honest, a little too much. There are several story lines (Emma going to witch school, becoming the town's public defender, solving a murder ...) but they weren't given enough page time, resulting in a lack of depth for most of them.

Overall, I enjoyed Curse the Day for what it is --a light, quick, cozy supernatural read. While the mystery played second fiddle to the world building, this new cozy series with a supernatural twist has good bones, wonderful humour which is sprinkled throughout like a healthy dose of pixie dust and has lots of potential for future story lines. 

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by Reedsy in exchange for my honest review. I was compensated for this review.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

I've Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter

Author: David Chariandy
Genre: Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Page: 120
Source: Publisher
Publisher: McLelland and Stewart

First Published: May 29, 2018
First Line: "Once, when you were three, we made a trip out for lunch."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the tradition of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, acclaimed novelist David Chariandy's latest is an intimate and profoundly beautiful meditation on the politics of race today.
When a moment of quietly ignored bigotry prompted his three-year-old daughter to ask "what happened?" David Chariandy began wondering how to discuss with his children the politics of race. A decade later, in a newly heated era of both struggle and divisions, he writes a letter to his now thirteen-year-old daughter. David is the son of Black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad, and he draws upon his personal and ancestral past, including the legacies of slavery, indenture, and immigration, as well as the experiences of growing up a visible minority within the land of one's birth. In sharing with his daughter his own story, he hopes to help cultivate within her a sense of identity and responsibility that balances the painful truths of the past and present with hopeful possibilities for the future.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: In I've Been Meaning To Tell You, Canadian author David Chariandy writes a letter to his thirteen-year-old daughter which addresses the issue of race and discrimination in today's world. 

This small book packs quite a punch as Chariandy, with his well-written, often poetic, prose, dives into issues about race and discrimination using his own personal history as well as the experiences of his parents (who are Trinidadian immigrants) and his extended family, over several generations. 

His writing is thought-provoking and, at times, sentimental with his love and admiration for his daughter, as a unique person in her own right, shining through. Yet even though this is a book dedicated to his daughter, Chariandy balances this personal aspect in a way that invites his readers in, making the issues and thoughts raised relevant to the rest of us.  

This wee book is a gem and will hopefully encourage much discussion making it a wonderful selection for book clubs.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Alice Network

Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 494
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
First Published: June 6, 2017
First Line: "May 1947 - Southampton: The first person I met in England was a hallucination."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the matter where it leads.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
My Review: The Alice Network falls into the 'I liked it but didn't love it' category. I can see why heaps of people wax poetic about this book, but I found it to be longer than it needed to be with one perspective overshadowing the other.
The story is told in two different eras using two perspectives -- Eve, a WWI spy in France and Charlie, a young American socialite in the aftermath of WWII. Eve's story line from her time as a spy was interesting and at times hard to read. But it was Charlie's part of the story that failed to hold my interest. Her story took time away from Eve's and that would normally be okay, but her part of the book had a whole different feel. Gone were the energy and danger of Eve's life as a spy, leaving readers with Charlie's POV with its trite dialogue, Charlie's immaturity and a cliched romance. The saving grace in Charlie's story was elderly Eve's caustic comments.
The era and the subject matter (female spies in World War I) will remind readers of Kristin Hannah's book, The Nightingale, which also focused on the bravery and sacrifices women made during the World Wars, even though they are often left out of historical texts.
I enjoyed this book which highlights one of the roles women played in the war effort, their bravery as well as their lack of rights and recognition. I applaud Quinn for including some real-life French war heroes and events in her story, but overall, The Alice Network was a lighter read and lacked the grit and emotion I come to expect from a book centred around a war.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Breath After Drowning

Author: Alice Blanchard
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 437
Source: advanced copy from Publisher
Publisher: Titan Books
First Published: April 10, 2018
First Line: "Kate Wolfe's 3pm appointment stood in the doorway wearing a jaw-dropping miniskirt, a light blue tee, plaid knee socks, and chunky platform heels."

Book Description from GoodReadsChild psychiatrist Kate Wolfe's world comes crashing down when one of her young patients commits suicide, so when a troubled girl is left at the hospital ward, she doubts her ability to help. But the girl knows things about Kate's past, things she shouldn't know, forcing Kate to face the murky evidence surrounding her own sister's murder sixteen years before, bringing Kate face to face with her deepest fear.

My Rating: 3.5 stars (a really good read)

My Review: A Breath After Drowning is a psychological thriller that kept me guessing and made for an enjoyable weekend read. The first part of the book is character driven as Blanchard guides her readers through Kate's past, her current job as a psychiatrist and her personal life. As the book progresses, twists are thrown in and a fair number of subplots and themes are explored in varying degrees.  

While I enjoyed the impressive number of culprits who kept me speculating about how it would end, I can't say I was equally enamoured with Kate. Her profession lends itself to interesting story lines, but her many insecurities often get the best of her and I couldn't believe that a highly educated woman would make so many rash and immature decisions. When you add in her super saccharine dialogue with her boyfriend (and fellow psychiatrist) James, Kate was the weakest part of the book for me.

But I did enjoy this book, really! I liked the premise and loved the twists. This was more of a mystery than a suspense read for me, so I'd recommend it to readers who like slow building tension that concludes with a nail-biting and action-packed ending.   

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Educated: A Memoir

Author: Tara Westover

Genre: Biography, Memoir
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: February 20, 2018
First Line: "I'm standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn".

Book Description from GoodReads:
 An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This book is about a girl who, despite her parents' lack of support and encouragement for formal education, manages to start her academic journey at the age of seventeen. With perseverance, dedication and help from people outside her tight knit, dysfunctional family, she is rewarded years later with her PhD.

Raised by her fundamentalist parents on a secluded mountain in Buck Peak, Idaho, her childhood was not a typical one. Her family situation was dire, brutal and heartbreaking. Her parents, especially her father, were suspicious of the government and determined to keep their children away from its influence, which included attending school. Their days were spent working in their family's metal scrapyard with shockingly little concern for their safety, but it was the mental abuse and control that her parents wielded over the children, that was the scariest and had the longest lasting effects.

Much of the book focuses on this dysfunctional bond with her family and how it conflicted with her deep-seated desire to educate herself. I'll admit that I found the first third of the book slow, but after that point I had a hard time putting it down. For a book where you already know the outcome going in, I was amazed at how riveted I was by Westover's life, her decisions and her repeated struggles to find out who she is, despite her childhood and family's pressure to conform. 

This is a well-written and impressive memoir that doesn't hold back. It has its touching moments but often it's a heartbreaking story about a girl who struggles to find her way in the world despite her family's hold on her. Many scenes were hard to read, and I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a work of fiction. Westover's childhood was appalling but her story becomes one of perseverance, healing and strength.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

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