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.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Witch of Willow Hall

Author: Hester Fox
Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Graydon House
First Published: October 2, 2018
First Line: "1811 - It was the Bishop boy who started it all."

Book Description from GoodReadsTwo centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821 -- In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.
The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end

My Rating: 2 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.

fter spending a week in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts last month I was eager to read this book set in the same area, featuring a gorgeous cover and witchy plot. Alas, there was not much witchiness to be had on these pages.

This book hints at supernatural elements but, ultimately, is a historical read set in the 19th century that focuses on too many different issues (romantic angst, familial scandal, death, paranormal elements …) but these issues didn't come together smoothly.  From the book's blurb, I was expecting things to go bump in the night, spooky happenings and the tension of a character worrying about being exposed as a witch. Some of these aspects are incorporated (strange powers, dark family history, ghosts) but they don't have much bearing on the plot, which seemed to lack purpose and tension. The anachronisms that are sprinkled throughout ("I lost my cool") didn't endear this book to me either.

If you're looking for a historical romance with a hint of paranormal, this will be for you. But if you're wanting a gothic read with loads of ghosts, ghouls and witches this Fall, you may be disappointed.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Guess Who

Author: Chris McGeorge
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin - Hanover Square Press
First Published: September 18, 2018
First Line: "The school is quiet by the time I get back."

Book Description from GoodReads: The rules are simple. The game is not. 

At eleven years old, Morgan Sheppard solved the murder of a teacher when everyone else believed it to be a suicide. The publicity surrounding the case laid the foundation for his reputation as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. He parlayed that fame into a gig as TV’s “resident detective,” solving the more typical tawdry daytime talk show mysteries like “Who is the father?” and “Is he cheating?”

Until, that is, Sheppard wakes up handcuffed to a bed in an unfamiliar hotel room. Around him, five strangers are slowly waking up, as well. Soon they discover a corpse in the bathtub and Sheppard is challenged to put his deductive skills to the test. One of the people in the room is the killer. He has three hours to solve the murder. If he doesn’t find the killer, they all will die.

An ingenious, page-turning debut, Chris McGeorge’s Guess Who matches the high-wire plotting of classic “locked room” mysteries into the unstoppable pacing of the modern-day thriller.

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 Rating: 2 stars

My Review: I was drawn to this book based on the premise. A locked room. One body and a gaggle of suspects. That's a solid premise for a whodunnit. 

For the first third of the book I kept guessing the identity of the murderer, but the book quickly lost steam and the suspense suffered for it. There was a decent twist, but the flash backs were clunky at best and the characters, even the Jerry Springer-wannabe were underdeveloped and generally speaking a one-dimensional bunch.

I give kudos for the interesting premise but with an ending that felt rushed, a lack of tension and a big reveal that was so far-fetched that it was ridiculous, this isn't a book I'd recommend for diehard fans of suspense.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

21 Things You May Not kNow About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples A Reality

Author: Bob Joseph
Genre: Nonfiction, Canadian, Indigenous
Type: Paperback
Pages: 160
Publisher: Indigenous Relations Press
First Published: April 10, 2018

Book Description from GoodReadsBased on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.

Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This wee book breaks down the Indian Act into bite-sized pieces so Canadians, of all backgrounds, can have a better understanding about the Indian Act and how it still influences our country today.

Before we can reconcile with the past and move on together, we need to understand what has happened, what was promised and continues to happen to our Indigenous citizens. I was shocked, mad and saddened to read about the extent to which our own government went to commit genocide against the peoples who originally lived in Canada. Its hubris was shameful, arrogant and wrong. This book lays out the effects on Indigenous peoples that came from the Indian Act (destruction of cultures and languages and the continued and far-reaching effects of the horrors of the residential schools). 

Joseph gives readers the key issues in the Indian Act and includes an extensive appendix, a glossary and discussion topics (which take up almost half of the book). Going into this book, I thought I had a decent knowledge about this aspect of Canadian history but after reading 21 Things … I now realize that I was not nearly as informed as I had thought. 

After reading this book, I have a much better understanding about the issues and hope that reconciliation and healing can be accomplished soon. Today I'm excited to go to my very first pow wow to learn more about some local Indigenous cultures. Education, sympathy, understanding the importance of diversity and acknowledgement of the past are key for all of us to move on.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Sea Prayer

Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Picture Book, Children's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
PublisherViking (Random House)
First Published: September 18, 2018
First Line: "My dear Marwan, in the long summers of childhood, when I was a boy the age you are now, your uncles and I spread our mattress on the roof of your grandfather's farmhouse outside of Homs."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed responds to the heartbreak of the current refugee crisis with this deeply moving, beautifully illustrated short work of fiction for people of all ages, all over the world.

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone.

Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution, and he will donate author proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe.

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

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: After reading about the three-year-old Syrian child whose body washed ashore in 2015, Khaled Hosseini was inspired to write this picture book to shed light on the refugee crisis. Accompanying the simple, yet powerful story are the water colour illustrations by Dan Williams which capture the emotion vividly.

With simple prose, Hosseini has written a story about one man and his young son as they're getting ready to cross the ocean in the hopes of finding a better life. Included in the story are descriptions of their lives and their country before the devastation and the drastic changes afterwards. This is an emotional story as readers witness the father's fear, his deep love for his son and his hope that they will find a safe and welcoming country to take them in.

My hope is that this book will encourage discussion about the refugee crisis and encourage compassion and sympathy for those who risk their lives only to have the freedoms and safety that we often take for granted.

Note: All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the UN Refugee Agency and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund life-saving relief efforts that will aid refugees around the world.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The Last Time I Lied

Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin Group)
First Published: July 3, 2018
First Line: "This is how it begins."

Book Description from GoodReadsTwo Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she--or anyone--saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings--massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it's immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp's twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

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 Rating: 4 stars

My Review: With The Last Time I Lied, Riley Sager has written an enticing, dark and riveting thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Set at Camp Nightingale, an all-girls summer sleep-away camp, readers will quickly become enmeshed in the secrets and lies of this complex psychological thriller.

The story is told in present day and uses flashbacks to the summer 15 years earlier when Emma was one of the campers during Camp Nightingale's final summer. The same summer when Emma's three cabinmates went missing and were never found. Now Emma, a professional artist, has returned to the newly reopened camp as an art instructor, with the goal of figuring out what happened to her teenage friends.

This was a great read. It has a good pace, numerous red herrings and some fantastic twists that left me muttering 'Oh, you got me, Riley Sager. Well played!' Finding an author who can still surprise this avid suspense reader is definitely one to keep an eye on.

This was my first book by Sager but will not be my last. I plan to pick up his book, Final Girls, as soon as possible. If you're looking for a great psychological, atmospheric thriller that teasingly reveals its secrets, includes dark twists and some edge-of-your-seat scenes, you'll want to pick up this book. 

Monday, 10 September 2018

The Stranger Upstairs

Author: Melanie Raabe
Genre: Suspense
Type: digital e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: House of Anansi
First Published: Sept 11, 2018
First Line: "The world is black."

Book Description from GoodReads: He calls himself your husband. But you're the only one who knows the truth. 

Several years ago, your husband, and the father of your young son, disappeared. Since then, you’ve dreamt of his return; railed against him for leaving you alone; grieved for your marriage; and, finally, vowed to move on.

One morning, the phone rings. When you answer, a voice at the other end tells you your husband’s on a plane bound for home, and that you’ll see him tomorrow. You’ve imagined this reunion countless times. Of course you have. But nothing has prepared you for the reality. For the moment you realise you don’t know this man.

Because he isn’t your husband; he’s a complete stranger -- and he’s coming home with you. Even worse, he seems to know about something very bad you once did -- something no one else could possibly know about . . . Could they?

From Melanie Raabe, the author of The Trap, The Stranger Upstairs is another dazzling, dizzying psychological thriller guaranteed to keep you guessing until the very last page.

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 Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just ok')

My Review: What would you do if your husband, who went missing 7 years before, suddenly came back into your life? But you're the only person who questions if he's the man you married. He may look similar but Sarah is adamant that he is not her husband and yet, he knows things about her that no one else could possibly know. This is the premise of The Stranger Upstairs.

The story is told via the POVs of Sarah and 'the husband/stranger' which gives readers different perspectives and will make them question his identity and be eager to learn about Sarah's big secret. 

The Stranger Upstairs had good intentions but it didn't pan out for me. First, I found too much time was spent with these two repeatedly arguing about his identity when a simple DNA test or a photo of the man could help prove or disprove his identity. I realize it's explained that he was 'photo shy' but he'd still have a photo on his driver's licence, health card, work ID etc.)  I couldn't believe that NO ONE, family nor friends, would notice if a different guy reappeared. Unfortunately, I also found the pacing slow and uneven and the resolution was weak and lackluster.

I had first read Melanie Raabe a few years ago and quite enjoyed her book The Trap and while I give marks for this latest book's unique premise, the execution was weaker than I had anticipated and with too many hard to believe ideas throughout, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I would have hoped.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Hidden Among The Stars

Author: Melanie Dobson
Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Tyndale House
First Published: September 4, 2018
First Line: "The blade of a shovel, cutting through frosted grass."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the award-winning author of Catching the Wind, which Publishers Weekly called “unforgettable” and a “must-read,” comes another gripping time-slip novel about hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people who resisted evil in their own extraordinary way.
The year is 1938, and as Hitler’s troops sweep into Vienna, Austrian Max Dornbach promises to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions from the Nazis, smuggling them to his family’s summer estate near the picturesque village of Hallstatt. He enlists the help of Annika Knopf, his childhood friend and the caretaker’s daughter, who is eager to help the man she’s loved her entire life. But when Max also brings Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman, to hide at the castle, it complicates Annika’s feelings and puts their entire plan―even their very lives―in jeopardy. Especially when the Nazis come to scour the estate and find both Luzia and the treasure gone.

Eighty years later, Callie Randall is mostly content with her quiet life, running a bookstore with her sister and reaching out into the world through her blog. Then she finds a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that connects her to Annika’s story . . . and maybe to the long-buried story of a dear friend. As she digs into the past, Callie must risk venturing outside the safe world she’s built for a chance at answers, adventure, and maybe even new love.

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

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I'm an avid WWII Historical Fiction reader and I was drawn to this book because it deals with lost Jewish relics that the Nazis stole during their occupation. 

There are two story lines, one during WWII and the other in modern day but I found the story during WWII much more compelling. Callie, in modern day, was a sweet main character but there wasn't much tension in her part of the book. There is a bit of romance that is dangled for the reader, but it mainly stays in the background which I appreciated. Callie is a book lover (yay!) who includes many quotes from her favourite childhood books in her dialogue. These were a cute addition and added tidbits of info but became so common that they began to interrupt the flow of her story line. 

This is also a Christian Fiction read, and while some religious issues are addressed in Max and Annika's story line, this element is much more apparent in Callie's side of the story. There are some good twists in the WWII plot which keep the story trucking along and readers will enjoy seeing the pieces of the puzzle fit together. But I wasn't a fan of one of the big final twists … it just didn't seem probable. When I read it I went  'Wha?! Why?!'. I suppose I didn't think the reasoning given for the sacrifice was enough to warrant such a big act. That said, I think it would also make a good discussion in books groups, so I'll leave it at that.

This is a romantic, historical story set in two different time frames and though it is set in a tumultuous time, Hidden Among the Stars is a lighter read and will appeal to readers who enjoy Christian fiction infused with a historical setting.

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