Thursday, 28 June 2018

Charlie and Frog

Author: Karen Kane
Genre: Middle School, Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
First Published: April 10, 2018
First Line: "Charlie's grandparents forgot he was in the room, which is how he ended up watching Vince Vinelli's Worst Criminals Ever!, wrapped in a blanket, terrified yet unable to look away."

Book Description from GoodReadsCharlie Tickler has been unceremoniously dumped with his sedentary, tv-obsessed grandparents in the village of Castle-on-the-Hudson while his parents are off to South Africa to save giant golden moles. Castle-on-the-Hudson may not have cell phone or internet service, but it does have murder, intrigue, and a School for the Deaf. Lonely and bored, Charlie decides to visit the library, where he meets an elderly woman who looks frightened as she tries to tell him something. But Charlie doesn't understand, and when the woman disappears, he searches for an answer.

The answer comes by way of Frog-a local girl who is deaf. Frog reveals the woman's desperate message to Charlie: dead. Charlie has no idea what this could mean, but Frog jumps at the chance to solve a real life mystery, just like her favorite fictional detective character, Dorrie McCann.

Now, Charlie must learn American Sign Language to keep up with quick-witted Frog. He soon discovers new ways to communicate while also forging a lasting friendship with the incomparable Frog.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Charlie and Frog is an entertaining book that features a great friendship between two plucky kids who try to solve a mystery. There are some good twists, nefarious baddies and quirky humour throughout but it's the unique characters and setting, as well as the inclusion of ASL (American Sign Language) and Deaf culture, that makes this book stand out from the rest.

As a former Sign Language Interpreter myself, I was eager to read a book featuring a Deaf main character. The author, who is also an ASL/English Interpreter, impressively incorporates aspects of Deaf culture, language and Deaf pride within the story. For readers who are eager to get their 'hands in the air', the beginning of each chapter features an ASL sign that is prominent in the following chapter, and the chapter titles are written in both English and fingerspelled. 

The story follows Charlie, a boy who has had a lonely life with oddball parents and extremely sedentary grandparents, all of whom are inept at raising kids and don't pay him enough attention. When Charlie sees Aggie, a Deaf woman who appears to be in trouble, she signs something to him and then promptly disappears. Suddenly, a couple of suspicious men are asking about Aggie's whereabouts, so Charlie enlists the help of Francine (aka 'Frog'), a Deaf girl about his own age, for help deciphering the sign Aggie used.

Charlie and Frog is a fun and entertaining story that features a mystery that will keep readers guessing, an engaging friendship and some Deaf culture and ASL t'boot.  The book gives hearing readers a better idea of what it means to be Deaf and also features a heartwarming message: 'good people do good things'.  This would be a great pick for Middle School readers.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Game of Hope

Author: Sandra Gulland
Genre: Historical Fiction, Teen
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Viking Books (Penguin Random House Canada)
First Published: June 26, 2018
First Line: "I saw a man approaching."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor Napoleon's stepdaughter, nothing is simple - especially love.

Paris, 1798. Hortense de Beauharnais is engrossed in her studies at a boarding school for aristocratic girls, most of whom have suffered tragic losses during the tumultuous days of the French Revolution. She loves to play and compose music, read and paint, and daydream about Christophe, her brother's dashing fellow officer. But Hortense is not an ordinary girl. Her beautiful, charming mother, Josephine, has married Napoleon Bonaparte, soon to become the most powerful man in France, but viewed by Hortense at the outset as a coarse, unworthy successor to her elegant father, who was guillotined during the Terror.

Where will Hortense's future lie? it may not be in her power to decide.

Inspired by Hortense's real-life autobiography with charming glimpses of life long ago, this is the story of a girl destined by fate to play a role she didn't choose.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: The Game of Hope is a historical fiction novel for Teens that focuses on the life of Hortense de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte's 15-year-old stepdaughter. The story is set in 1798 in France, not long after the horrors during the Reign of Terror.

This was a quiet, slowly paced book that focuses on Hortense's life. It's a coming-of-age story of a girl struggling to deal with the after effects of The Terror and her unique family life, while still dealing with the normal struggles of teenage girls of that era.
The Game of Hope had an interesting focus and premise and readers should enjoy getting to see a different side to Napoleon as a family man as he rises to power. But I was hoping for more historical detail. Readers learn about the history from the sidelines and only through Hortense' point of view as she goes about her daily life. Gulland provides a broad sense of post-Revolution France, but I had to draw on previous books (namely Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran) for a clearer picture of the devastation and horror of the time. Without a clearer picture of the era outside of Hortense' small world, I don't know if teens will truly grasp how horrific the Terror was for French citizens.

This is a good introduction of French history for teen girls featuring a protagonist their own age who lived a unique life as part of the Boneparte family and continues to deal with the after effects of the French Revolution.

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

Friday, 22 June 2018

The Forgotten Ones

Author: Steena Holmes
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 348
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: April 1, 2018
First Line: "I always knew I was headed for hell; I just never expected it to happen like this."

Book Description from GoodReadsElle is a survivor. She’s managed to piece together a solid life from a childhood of broken memories and fairy tales her mom told her to explain away bad dreams. But weekly visits to her mother still fill Elle with a paralyzing fear she can’t explain. It’s just another of so many unanswered questions she grew up with in a family estranged by silence and secrets.

Elle’s world turns upside down when she receives a deathbed request from her grandfather, a man she was told had died years ago. Racked by grief, regrets, and a haunted conscience, he has a tale of his own to tell Elle: about her mother, an imaginary friend, and two strangers who came to the house one night and never left.

As Elle’s past unfolds, so does the truth—if she can believe it. She must face the reasons for her inexplicable dread. As dark as they are, Elle must listen…before her grandfather’s death buries the family’s secrets forever.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: The Forgotten Ones is a compelling, complex and haunting family drama that has a wonderful tension throughout, well-drawn characters and emotionally charged issues such as tragedy, loss, secrets and a family dealing with generations of mental illness. Steena Holmes has set her story within her childhood hometown of Kincardine, Ontario and I enjoyed the local touches she sprinkled throughout the story.

This was a highly addicting read as Holmes slowly unravels the secrets of this complicated family and fills the pages with wonderful tension making readers just as eager as Elle to find the truth about her family - their secrets, lies and omissions. I had my guesses about what really happened, and, in the end, I was correct but the journey to get the answers was wonderfully suspenseful and expertly paced. The only reason I shaved off half a star from my rating is due to the ending because it didn't feel as strong as the rest of the book. I was hoping for one last twist. 

This is a compulsive, hard-to-put-down, wonderfully Canadian read that is filled with tension and illustrates how mental illness impacts entire families. I'm so glad I've found this new-to-me author and look forward to reading more of her work.  

Note: Due to the issues raised, as well as the complicated bonds between the characters, The Forgotten Ones would make an excellent book club selection.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

All We Ever Wanted

Author: Emily Giffin
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
First Published: June 26, 2018
First Line: "It started out as a typical Saturday night."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the midst of a scandal that threatens a perfect life, how far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love?Nina Browning married a third-generation Nashvillian, enjoys a newly lavish lifestyle thanks to the sudden success of her husband's tech business and has a son, Finch, who just got accepted to Princeton.

Thomas Talone is a single dad, works multiple jobs and has a daughter, Lila, who was recently accepted to Nashville's most prestigious private high school on a scholarship.

They couldn't be prouder.

Then scandal strikes, and the worlds of these very different families collide. Lila passes out at a party, drunk and half-naked. Finch snaps a picture, types out a caption and click--sends it out to a few friends. The photo spreads quickly, and soon heated reactions bubble throughout the already-divided community. Before long, the families find themselves in the midst of an ethical war as their community takes sides, throws blame and implodes. The gray area between right and wrong grows thick, and Nina and Tom are forced to question every assumption they've held about love and family loyalty. Emily Giffin tells a riveting story of characters who face impossible choices--but emerge to live a life truer to themselves than they ever had before.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: All We Ever Wanted is a good, escapist summer read that touches on issues of privilege, negative effects of social media, its consequences and other pressures that teens face in today's world. 

This is an entertaining, lighter read with a twist or two to keep readers on their toes but overall, this book is comfortably predictable. While Giffin introduces big topics, she doesn't jump into the deep end with them leaving readers with only a shallow examination of the issues, equally unexplored depth to her characters and an ending that was tied up too easily, swiftly and wasn't as satisfying as I would have hoped.   

Overall, this book was still a page-turner, but was a lighter read than expected. If you're looking for a gritty exploration of sexual exploitation, entitlement and teen issues, this probably isn't it. If you're looking for a lighter look at some modern issues, this would make a good beach read this summer. 

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

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Before and Again

Author: Barbara Delinsky
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: June 26, 2018
First Line: "Mackenzie Cooper had no idea where she was or, more critically, why she hadn't already arrived."

Book Description from GoodReadsMackenzie Cooper took her eyes off the road for just a moment, but the resulting collision was enough to rob her not only of her beloved daughter but ultimately of her marriage, family, and friends―and thanks to the nonstop media coverage, even her privacy. Now she lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid, in a small house with her cats and dog. She’s thankful for the new friends she’s made―though she can’t risk telling them too much. And she takes satisfaction in working as a makeup artist at the luxurious local spa, helping clients hide the visible outward signs of their weariness, illnesses, and injuries. Covering up scars is a skill she has mastered.

Her only goal is to stay under the radar and make it through her remaining probation. But she isn’t the only one in this peaceful town with secrets. When a friend’s teenage son is thrust into the national spotlight, accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, Maggie is torn between pulling away and protecting herself―or stepping into the glare to be at their side. As the stunning truth behind their case is slowly revealed, Maggie’s own carefully constructed story begins to unravel as well. She knows all too well that what we need from each other in this difficult world is comfort. But to provide it, sometimes we need to travel far outside our comfort zones.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: I picked up this book because I had never read Barbara Delinsky before and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Many readers loved this book, but I struggled for weeks to get through this book. 

From its blurb it sounded like a good fit for me, but the execution was weak. First, too much page time was spent describing actions or scenes (like pottery making or make-up application) that didn't propel the story forward. Second, the characters, especially Maggie, could have had a lot more depth. Third, there was a definite lack of emotion for a book that dealt with big issues and readers aren't given enough time to buy into the reasons for much of the emotional discord and hurt. 

This book had a good premise, but I think it was trying to be too many things - women's fiction, a book about grief, a crime novel and a story about a woman struggling to rebuild her life. It was too melodramatic with characters who lacked depth, a story that lacked focus (but made up for it in predictability and convenient coincidences) and too many pages were spent describing scenes that pushed me away from the story instead of into it.

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

Friday, 15 June 2018

Leah on the Offbeat

Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 343
Series: #2 in the Creekwood series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
First Published: April 24, 2018
First Line: "I don't mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list."

Book Description from GoodReadsLeah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: After loving and gushing about Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda a few months ago, I was eager to read this follow-up book which focuses on Simon's friend, Leah. Fans of Simon will enjoy getting back into the lives of the Creekwood gang, who are a deliciously diverse bunch, now in their final year of high school.

While this was a good read, some of the Simon magic was missing. I didn't feel the same connection with the characters and this was even more noticeable when it came to Leah. She wasn't likeable this time out and felt like she was in a bad mood most of the book. I like that she's brash, sarcastic, funny and flies her Potter geek flag high, but it felt like her inner Mean Girl took over so much of the story that we didn't see the real Leah beneath the layers of snark.   

Once again, I applaud Albertalli for delving into different issues influencing teens today (I loved Abby's story line) but Leah had some big shoes to fill coming on the heels of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and, unfortunately, I was left wanting a bit more. While I didn't love this book as much as I had expected, I'm still glad I read it and enjoyed seeing where the characters have progressed to since the last book.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Steep Price

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Series: #6 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
PublisherThomas and Mercer
First PublishedJune 26, 2018
First Lines: "It had been more than a year since Seattle homicide detectives Del Castigliano and Vic Fazzio had worked a case in South Park, but the reason for their visits hadn't changed.  Someone had been murdered."

Book Description from GoodReads: Called in to consult after a young woman disappears, Tracy Crosswhite has the uneasy feeling that this is no ordinary missing-persons case. When the body turns up in an abandoned well, Tracy’s suspicions are confirmed. Estranged from her family, the victim had balked at an arranged marriage and had planned to attend graduate school. But someone cut her dreams short.

Solving the mystery behind the murder isn’t Tracy’s only challenge. The detective is keeping a secret of her own: she’s pregnant. And now her biggest fear seems to be coming true when a new detective arrives to replace her. Meanwhile, Tracy’s colleague Vic Fazzio is about to take a fall after his investigation into the murder of a local community activist turns violent and leaves an invaluable witness dead.

Two careers are on the line. And when more deadly secrets emerge, jobs might not be the only things at risk.
My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: In this sixth installment of the Tracy Crosswhite series, readers get a wonderful mix of police procedural, emotional connections to the characters and a few twists along the way.

There are two crimes being investigated by Tracy's team of detectives as well as a mystery surrounding a new detective who has suddenly appeared. But this time around, things also get personal as Dugoni weaves not only Tracy's personal life into the story, but readers get a better look into the lives of Tracy's fellow detectives Castigliano and Fazzio.

In A Steep Price, Robert Dugoni leads his characters through new life changes, provides some great suspense with two different story lines and introduces a few timely social, cultural and socioeconomic topics into the mix. 

This is one of my favourite, 'go-to', 'not-going-to-disappoint' police procedural/suspense series. If you're looking for a series with a strong female character, great twists, on-going character development, good banter and a group of characters you'll look forward to seeing again and again, you need to get your hands on this series.

Note: this book can be read as a standalone but if you want to get the most out of this compulsively readable series, read it in order (start with My Sister's Grave).  You won't regret it. 

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

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Home For Unwanted Girls

Author: Joanna Goodman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Published: April 17, 2018
First Line: "1950 - He who plants a seed plants life."

Book Description from GoodReadsPhilomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit—the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.

In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.

Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.

Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This book is going to get people talking. Is it a riveting story about a horrible time in Canadian history? Yes. Does it deal with sensitive and emotional subject matter? Yes. Will it give readers a lot to talk about in their book clubs.  Undoubtedly.

The story is told in alternating points of view of Maggie and Elodie, as they each struggle within the confines that society has placed on them in the hope that they'll be reunited with each other one day. But Goodman also incorporates other issues that permeated Quebec in the 1950's, like the blatant animosity between Anglophones and Francophones. But it was another event in Canada's history that hit me the hardest.

That event -- Quebec orphanages being turned into mental asylums merely for financial gain -- is one that I, embarrassingly, knew nothing about. Also showcased is the flagrant abuse of power of the Catholic church, the apathetic actions of the Quebec and federal governments as well as the swift and unwavering judgement by society which, together, lead to devastating consequences for thousands of young Quebec girls over the course of many years.

While this is a story about family bonds, loss and perseverance, it is also an eye-opening story about the abuse of power and a society whose judgement is more important than the welfare of its children. With issues like those, it's not surprising that this book has emotional scenes but, if I'm being honest, my feelings for the book faltered a bit towards the end. Around two-thirds of the way through I felt the book loses momentum and after all of the emotion and anguish throughout the book, the ending felt weaker than I was expecting. 

Overall, this is a wonderful read that confronts a horrible time in our history within an emotional story that will bring lively and heated discussion to any book group.

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