Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Final Detail

Author: Harlan Coben
Genre: Suspense
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 384
Series: #6 in the Myron Bolitar series
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Island Books
First Published: 1999
Opening Lines: "Myron lay sprawled next to a knee-knockingly gorgeous brunette clad only in a Class-B-felony bikini, a tropical drink sans umbrella in one hand, the aqua clear Caribbean water lapping at his feet, the sane a dazzling white powder, the sky a pure blue that could only be God's blank canvas, the sun as soothing and rich as a Swedish masseur with a snifter of cognac, and her was intensely miserable."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn this sixth novel in the award-winning Myron Bolitar series, Harlan Coben delivers a riveting powerhouse thriller—a twisting mystery of betrayal, family secrets, and murder.

Myron Bolitar’s colleague at MB SportsReps, Esperanza, has been arrested for the murder of a client, a fallen baseball star attempting a comeback. Myron is determined to prove Esperanza’s innocence—even if she won’t speak to him on the advice of her lawyer, who warns Myron to keep away from both the case and his client. But Myron is already too close, too involved, and has too much at stake. And the closer Myron gets to the truth, the more the evidence points to the only viable suspect besides Esperanza: Myron himself.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I read this book last week while on holidays in the Dominican Republic and after reading the first line, I thought to myself that this was the perfect book for me since it begins in the Caribbean!

This is the sixth installment of the popular Myron Bolitar series, a series that I have enjoyed over the years and while I've read several of the previous books, I hadn't yet read the fifth book. Thankfully, Coben catches his readers up on what's happened recently in Myron's life. One of the highlights of this series for me is Myron and his best friend Win's relationship - I love their bond and humourous camaraderie. Unfortunately, it wasn't as abundant as I had hoped in this book and I missed Esperanza who surprisingly played a very minor role. There is a decent but not overly intriguing mystery and Coben touches on some bigger issues (sexuality, gender identity, body image …) but not in a lot of depth.

Overall, this was a good read but not my favourite in the series. It's an easy read that's perfect to take on holiday while you're soaking up the sun, drinking sweet bevvies on the beach and want an easy, fairly entertaining read with some memorable characters.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Paris Echo

Author: Sebastian Faulks
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
First Published: November 6, 2018
Opening Lines: "I was taking a pee in the bathroom when I caught sight of myself in the mirror."

Book Description from GoodReadsA story of resistance, complicity, and an unlikely, transformative friendship, set in Paris, from internationally bestselling novelist Sebastian Faulks.
American historian Hannah intends to immerse herself in World War II research in Paris, wary of paying much attention to the city where a youthful misadventure once left her dejected. But a chance encounter with Tariq, a Moroccan teenager whose visions of the City of Lights as a world of opportunity and rebirth starkly contrast with her own, disrupts her plan.

Hannah agrees to take Tariq in as a lodger, forming an unexpected connection with the young man. Yet as Tariq begins to assimilate into the country he risked his life to enter, he realizes that its dark past and current ills are far more complicated than he’d anticipated. And Hannah, diving deeper into her work on women’s lives in Nazi-occupied Paris, uncovers a shocking piece of history that threatens to dismantle her core beliefs. Soon they each must question which sacrifices are worth their happiness and what, if anything, the tumultuous past century can teach them about the future.

From the sweltering streets of Tangier to deep beneath Paris via the Metro, from the affecting recorded accounts of women in German-occupied France and into the future through our hopes for these characters, Paris Echo offers a tough and poignant story of injustices and dreams.

My Review: 2.5 stars

My Review: I was drawn to The Paris Echo, my first Faulks book, due to its WWII connection. As a regular reader of Historical Fiction, I enjoyed the historical tidbits surrounding Germany's occupation in France during WWII as well as learning a little about Algeria's history and its relationship with France. Within this historical backdrop, this is a tale of self discovery for the two main characters who have recently arrived in Paris - Hannah, a thirty-one-year-old American post-doctoral researcher and Tariq, a 19-year-old Moroccan youth who ran away from home and arrives in Paris hoping to find his way in the world.

Unfortunately, the different story lines never felt like they came together cohesively. I felt disconnected from Tariq and Hannah throughout the book and I can't put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it was the disjointed, back-and-forth flow? I know it was partly due to how unrealistically the two story lines were connected. It bothered me that I was expected to believe that a thirty-one-year-old woman in a foreign country would randomly take a sick homeless youth (and her friend) into her home. I just couldn't buy it. It felt like a weak and much too convenient way to link the two characters story lines. My lackluster feelings could also have been caused by the overemphasis on the Paris Metro system.

I found some parts of this book interesting and I learned more about a few historical events but overall this wasn't a compelling read for me. It suffers from too much shifting between characters, time frames and even reality versus drug-induced visions. While it does give readers food for thought, I struggled to get through this book. Perhaps fans of Faulks previous works will enjoy this book more than I did.

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

Thursday, 20 December 2018


Author: Colleen Hoover
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Hoover Ink, Inc.
First Published: December 7, 2018
Opening Lines: "Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Book Description from GoodReads: Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity's notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn't expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity's recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen's feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife's words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: I picked up this book knowing little about the author except that she typically writes romance. But Verity, as the author warns at the beginning of the book, is not her usual fare. It's a dark, twisty and oh-so-suspenseful romp through the lives of two authors and a devastated family.

It's a quick read but in its span of 250 pages, readers will feel a wide range of emotions and find themselves changing their theories of what happened to this family. Verity has a strong creepy factor and a slow building, unrelenting tension that helped me devour this book in a day. As I read, I was brought deeper into Verity's life and innermost thoughts making me feel like a rubbernecker at a crime scene -- I should look away because this is messed up! But I don't want to look away because this is so messed up!

Hoover is known for her romances and I'm known for not liking romances, so this was an interesting pairing. In amongst the creepy, dark and twisty suspense she includes quite a few love scenes which leave little to readers' imaginations. While I like some romance in a book, there are so many of these scenes that it felt excessive and a tad raunchy. Just not my cuppa tea.

This is a compulsive, dark, heart-racing and twisty read that will take readers to places that will make them feel uncomfortable, angry and sad but curious to find out the truth. I love it when authors branch out and try new genres and I think Hoover's first foray into dark and creepy suspense should be applauded. This is a very quick read -- make sure you get your hands on a copy ASAP.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Louisana's Way Home

Author: Kate DiCamillo
Genre: Children's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Candlewick Press
First Published: October 2, 2018
Opening Lines: "I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? they will have an answer. They will know. This is what happened."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Kate DiCamillo, award winning author of The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie and Flora and Ulysses is a new-to-me author so I wasn't sure what to expect with Louisiana's Way Home. What I got was an entertaining and touching Middle School story that focuses on a memorable young character. 

Louisiana Elephante is a precocious, quirky and loquacious tween girl who will wheedle her way into readers' minds and hearts for her spunkiness, unique view of the world and her forthrightness. Through Louisiana, this book addresses a few big issues (including love, loss, friendship and forgiveness) and has its share of emotional scenes. 

There are some implausible plot points to contend with and DiCamillo leaves readers with a few unanswered questions. Normally, this would bother me but then I remembered that the reader is only privy to Louisiana's POV and all she knows is that life is uncertain, scary and lonely. She doesn't have all the answers, so neither do we.

This book has a lot going on - how many books will feature a stuffed alligator, a stack of bologna sandwiches, a caramel-eating pianist and a friendly crow named Clarence? (I'm assuming not many). But put these things together with DiCamillo's wonderful prose and you'll get a heartfelt story of hope featuring a resilient girl who is struggling to find out who she is, what she wants and where she wants to be in the world. 

Favourite Quote: Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.

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

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Castle of Water

Author: Dane Huckelbridge
Genre: Adventure, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Source: Interlibrary Loan
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
First Published: April 2017
Opening Lines: "The flat is in the tenth arrondissement of Paris, on a derelict street called Chateau d'Eau. To find it is simple: Just take a right at the arch, go down rue Saint-Denis, steer clear of the dog shit, and you cannot miss it."

Book Description from GoodReads: Two very different people, one very small island.

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. The proud owner of a thriving Parisian architecture firm, co-founded with her brilliant new husband, Sophie had much to look forward to—including a visit to the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel.

For Barry Bleecker, the same trip was meant to mark a new beginning. Turning away from his dreary existence in Manhattan finance, Barry had set his sights on fine art, seeking creative inspiration on the other side of the world—just like his idol, Paul Gauguin.

But when their small plane is downed in the middle of the South Pacific, the sole survivors of the wreck are left with one common goal: to survive. Stranded hundreds of miles from civilization, on an island the size of a large city block, the two castaways must reconcile their differences and learn to draw on one another's strengths if they are to have any hope of making it home.

Told in mesmerizing prose, with charm and rhythm entirely its own, Dane Huckelbridge's Castle of Water is more than just a reimagining of the classic castaway story. It is a stirring reflection on love’s restorative potential, as well as a poignant reminder that home—be it a flat in Paris, a New York apartment, or a desolate atoll a world away—is where the heart is.

My Rating: 2 stars (ie. 'meh, wouldn't recommend it')

My Review: I can't remember where I first heard about this book but a 'classic castaway' story sounded like an interesting premise (though admittedly an odd choice right before I fly down south).  This book got high ratings on GoodReads but, unfortunately, it fell short for me. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for it? Right book, wrong time? I don't know but I struggled through most of it.

First, for a book that deals with life, death, fear and loss, it lacked emotion and felt contrived. It follows a predictable 'man and woman castaways on a far off island' story line (with the woman losing much of her clothing in the accident - surprise, surprise) and while there were a couple of scenes that had some tension, the main focus is on the repetitive minutiae of their daily lives with their struggles being handled much too easily (don't get me started on the homemade contact solution!).

Secondly, I wasn't a fan of Sophie and Barry and didn't feel like I ever cared about them. Their constant sniping got old fast as did the regular addition of French phrases in the dialogue which were distracting and repetitive (for those of us who understand French).

Overall, this was a miss for me. With the ending revealed early on, the plot was predictable and while I enjoyed some of the sidebar stories and castaway facts that the author includes, these tidbits and the idyllic beauty of French Polynesia weren't enough to make this a book that I'd recommend. 

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
: 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 ( 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. 

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