Thursday, 19 January 2017

A Quiet Kind of Thunder

Author: Sara Barnard
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Teen
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Publishers Group Canada - MacMillan Children's Books
First Published: January 12, 2017
First Line: "Millie Gerdavey cheated on her boyfriend again."

Book Description from GoodReadsSteffi doesn't talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can't hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn't a lightning strike, it's the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. 

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a teen romance between a Deaf boy and a girl who has Selective Mutism.  As a former Sign Language Interpreter, the addition of the Deaf character was the reason I picked up this book in the first place.  Unfortunately, the book is only told from Steffi's point of view so we don't get a great representation of Rhys, the Deaf teen.  

Steffi suffers from anxiety and Selective Mutism - a debilitating condition where she is unable to speak in social settings. But, over the course of the book, it didn't seem like her mutism effected her daily life as much I would have expected.  There were a few instances where she was unable to speak to people but, for the most part, she seemed to be able to overcome her social anxiety and mutism without much trepidation.  Steffi's behaviour could be explained by medication and therapy - I just thought there would be more issues surrounding her condition.  With Selective Mutism being new to me I wasn't sure if this was an accurate portrayal.  

This was a slowly paced story about a sweet teen relationship but I was expecting their communication issues, social anxiety and Deaf culture to play bigger roles in the plot. Instead the focus was on the teen romance which had that sweet, first love feel to it.  Ah, l'amour! That said, I felt their connection developed too fast with their bond having an Insta-Love vibe to it.  And while I applaud the author for including BSL (British Sign Language) into her book I felt that Steffi picked up BSL unbelievably easily - we're talking about a whole new language. 

This book addresses several relevant issues - mental health, teen sexual health, first love and a strong nod to relationships with parents and best friends.  I liked seeing the different ways in which Steffi and Rhys' families dealt with issues surrounding Deafness and Selective Mutism as well as Steffi's relationship with Tem, her BFF.  These secondary relationships were well drawn and added diversity to the cast.

Overall, this was a decent, slow burn kind of read which gives readers a general idea about being Deaf in a mainly hearing world as well as what it's like for someone living with Selective Mutism and social anxiety.  I think other readers (who have more romantic souls) will enjoy this book more than I did.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to MacMillan's Children's Books at NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Trapped Girl

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: #4 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: January 24, 2017
First Line: "Kurt Schill dragged his fourteen-foot aluminum boat across the beach logs he'd set to minimize the scraping of the hull against the rocks."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen a woman’s body is discovered submerged in a crab pot in the chilly waters of Puget Sound, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself with a tough case to untangle. Before they can identify the killer, Tracy and her colleagues on the Seattle PD’s Violent Crimes Section must figure out who the victim is. Her autopsy, however, reveals she may have gone to great lengths to conceal her identity. So who was she running from?

After evidence surfaces that their Jane Doe may be a woman who suspiciously disappeared months earlier, Tracy is once again haunted by the memory of her sister’s unsolved murder. Dredging up details from the woman’s past leads to conflicting clues that only seem to muddy the investigation. As Tracy begins to uncover a twisted tale of brutal betrayal and desperate greed, she’ll find herself risking everything to confront a killer who won’t go down without a deadly fight. Once again, New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni delivers a taut, riveting thriller in the fourth installment of his acclaimed Tracy Crosswhite series.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Robert Dugoni is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors for a suspenseful, twisty read.  I adored My Sister's Grave and continued to enjoy the next two books in the series, (Her Final Breath and In the Clearing).  With The Trapped Girl, the fourth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, Dugoni once again gives his readers a non-stop story filled with suspense, tension and twists.  He had me captivated throughout and while I had several ideas of who the culprit could be, by the time Dugoni finished weaving his web, he ended up surprising even this seasoned reader.

Tracy continues to be a strong main character.  She's tough yet likable and has her flaws.  A gaggle of fellow detectives and Tracy's boyfriend round out the cast.  I'd suggest reading this series in order so that you understand where Tracy's past which continues to haunt her.  While her personal life plays a role in this book and I liked its inclusion, I'm glad it stayed in the fringes of the story to keep the tension high.

This is a well-crafted suspense read.  It's complicated without being fussy or confusing as Dugoni leads his readers through his plot leading up to a very satisfying, nail-biting conclusion. If you're in the mood for lots of twists, suspense and some solid characters you must pick up the Tracy Crosswhite series.

Highly recommended for fans of Lisa Gardner and Harlan Coben.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Thomas and Mercer for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Small Great Things

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 470
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: October 11, 2016
First Line: "The miracle happened on West Seventy-Fourth Street, in the home where Mama worked."

Book Description from GoodReadsRuth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn't offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

My Rating: 5 stars

My ReviewPicoult is known for writing compelling stories about timely, ethical issues and Small Great Things is no exception. It was immediately drawn into the lives of the three main characters who share their points of view -- Ruth, the African-American nurse who is charged with a crime; Kennedy - the white lawyer who defends her and Turk, the white supremacist whose young son has died. By using these three varied points of view Picoult delves into the issue of racism. 

These perspectives engage the reader immediately with characters who are well-rounded and believably flawed. You will love some of their actions and hate some but I guarantee you will feel something. It is, at times, heart-wrenching, maddening, shocking and frustrating but always compelling. The characters face different issues and I can't say that I was 100% on board with any of them. While I abhorred Turk's racism I could also sympathize with his loss as a parent.  While I found what happened to Ruth unjust and maddening I also wondered why she didn't make other choices.  

Some people criticize Picoult for being too formulaic but one cannot deny that she gives her readers food for thought.  She, once again, uses her 'ethical issue/courtroom drama' formula (which I was fine with) but I'll admit to not being a fan of the ending which I found was wrapped up too easily and predictably.  Satisfying but predictable.

Picoult has opened the discussion regarding intolerance and racism - in both its active and passive forms.  Hopefully, this book will give readers a new perspective on racism and show how even small comments and actions only help to perpetuate the current environment of intolerance. Just because the situation is fine for us some of us, doesn't mean we shouldn't stop and think about how it affects others. It's this message of passive racism that stood out for me the most.  

" If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." 
- Dr. Martin Luther King

Picoult tackled this topic with a lot of research and an equal amount of sensitivity.  I encourage people to read the author's note at the end of the book regarding why she, as a white woman, took on the topic of racism.  With all the moral, ethical and racial issues that were touched on I feel that this would make an excellent book club selection.

This book continues to creep into my thoughts and I find myself wondering about the daily racism that people of colour continue to face - especially subtle, passive prejudice. What I'm hoping is that we keep this discussion going. Talk about racism and intolerance with our kids. Call people on their racist comments. Listen and believe people when they share their experiences.  Racism isn't just about hate.  It's about ignorance.  It's about an unbalanced system of power and about the little things that encourage intolerance. 

We can be better than this.  We need to do better.  Everyone has the chance to make a difference - small or great.  We just need to choose to do it.

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

DIY Paneled Wall - Part One

While I don't claim to be a Canadian home reno guru like Bryan Baeumler (swoon!), Scott McGillivray or Jillian Harris by any means, I do love smaller projects that Brad and I can do ourselves to make our house look nice and give it a homey feel. Not only does doing it yourselves save money but it feels great to look at something and say 'WE did that!"

Recently we decided to renovate our master bedroom.  We've lived in this house for eight years and we'll be married 20 years this June and yet we've never had a luxurious, calming master bedroom - a beautiful space of refuge from the craziness of life. 

This reno started with our need to upgrade our bedroom furniture (complete with a King-size bed!).  For the past 19 years, we had had a simple pine set which was okay (and, at the time, cheap) but definitely not our style now. Knowing we were going to have nice, new furniture we decided to add a focal wall to our Master and a coat of paint too.

I have wanted to do some sort of paneled wall in our house for a long time.  Originally, I thought we'd do one in our living/dining room but Brad wasn't on board.  So, in the name of marital accord (I just wanted to do a paneled wall somewhere!) we opted to do our master bedroom.  I scoured Pinterest and various sites for inspiration and a little help figuring out how to go about making a paneled wall.  I found beautiful DIY examples at Chris Loves Julia with their Dark DIY'd Wainscotting as well as the DIY Paneled Wall in the Master bedroom by Jenna Sue Design.  These are some very talented people and they inspired us.

We started off with a very plain Master bedroom.  

Embarrassingly, this is where the magic happened for eight years. Normally our bed is on the wall behind the ladder but I didn't remember to get a Before picture of our bedroom layout before we moved everything around.  In this picture, we had started marking off the wall studs with our stud finder and laser level.  

You get the general idea - it was a lackluster space.  The wall colour was slightly darker than 'Builder's Beige' (I thought I was being so cool going darker - um, no) and we had a mishmash of furniture that was more functional than stylish.  It was blaw and not a place I looked forward to hanging out in nor was it romantic in any way, shape or form.  The paneled wall was planned for the long 18-foot wall (behind the ladder in the picture above) with our new bed in front of it.

With Mastercard magic, planning, design and sweat equity we now have a bedroom to be proud of.  After recently showing our good friends Brian and Allison our new and improved bedroom I got the reaction I was hoping for as Allison exclaimed that she loved it. I knew I liked that gal and have awarded her Awesome Friend Points.

Let's get started ...

Step One - Plan it out
You must have a plan before starting this project. We measured our wall (18' long x 8' high) and then had to decide how we wanted to do our grid.  There are lots of options - did we want it all equally sized squares?  Did we want larger areas in the middle (see picture below)?  
Picture from:
With the design in the above picture you have a bigger gap in the middle.  I love this design but our bedroom set is huge and a lot of the wall would be covered by furniture. We wanted to have as much of the paneling pattern show as possible so we went with a more uniform design with equal sized squares.  With the help of Brad's mad Autocad skills he figured out what size of squares we needed for the size of our wall which came out to three rows and nine columns of larger squares. You don't have to have Autocad to plan it out. You can figure it out with pencil and paper or consult sites like Wall Panel Sizing Calculator to do the work for you.

This is what we came up with ...

Luckily, our three electrical outlets fit nicely within the squares. As it turns out, the two end columns each ended up being 1/2-inch wider.  Adding that little bit to each end enabled us to have simpler dimensions for the other squares (with no wonky measurements like 5.5/16" - ain't nobody got patience for that!).  And since it's such a minor dimension (and on the ends) you don't notice it.  

We knew we were using 4-inch planks so the next step, figuring how many boards we'd need, was easy to calculate.  And by easy, I mean Brad and Autocad figured it out.

Step Two - A Trip to Depot
Based on our calculations we knew we needed two sheets of MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard).  This stuff is strong, cheap ($25CDN for each sheet) and our friendly peeps at The Home Depot cut it into our 4-inch strips for free.  

After stocking up on more brad nails for our pneumatic nail gun and some adhesive for paneling and drywall .. we headed for home.

Step Three - What You'll Need
Stud finder
MDF boards - we used two 4'x8' sheets cut into 4-inch wide strips
sliding compound mitre saw
brad nails
brad nail gun (pneumatic if you got it!)
adhesive for paneling and drywall
laser level (or traditional level)

Step Four - Puttin' Up the Planks
The first thing you'll do is mark off the studs in your wall so a stud finder is essential. Once we found the stud we set the laser level on it which made it easy to mark the stud down the length of the wall with pencil.  Knowing where your studs are is important since you want to hit as many of them as you can to ensure that your boards stay on your wall. 

Next, you'll want to put up the top and bottom planks on your wall but you need to ensure that they are level.  Your baseboards and/or ceilings probably aren't may not be level but your MDF boards need to be.  A laser level works well to ensure your boards are straight and in line with each other.  If you get one board slightly off it will affect the others so you'll need to verify, as you go, that the planks you're putting up are straight. You can see the red lines of our laser level in the Before picture at the beginning of this post.

The bottom row of MDF sat right on top of our original baseboards and is only very slightly deeper than the baseboards. We weren't eager to pull of the original baseboards and I'm glad that we didn't. We ran a 'wiggle' of the adhesive down the face of the first 8' piece of plank ...

Always the helper!  Good job adding the adhesive, Brad!
... then we placed the plank on the wall and used a laser level to ensure that the first row was straight. The adhesive gives you extra bonding to the wall and allows you about 30 minutes before it fully dries to wiggle it into place along the laser line.  This board ... must ... be ... straight or it will throw things off later on.  

Once we had the plank in place we used a pneumatic air nail gun to secure brad nails at the top and bottom - about five inches apart along the plank.  We did the same process for the next full board and then had to cut a 2-foot board to finish off that lower row. 

Things were going great!  And then we went to do the top row. Our bedroom has a partial vaulted ceiling but what we didn't realize is the wall/ceiling in the vaulted area wasn't straight. 

You have got to be kidding me! 

We opted to keep the planks for this upper row straight (according to the laser level/rest of the room and not the wonky wall/ceiling).  This decision gave us a gap that started off with a 3/8-inch gap at the beginning of the vaulted area and ended up with a over an inch gap in the corner!  

What fresh hell is this?!?

Brad to the rescue!  He measured the height of the 'wedge' between the top plank and the ceiling at various points and cut pieces to fit like one long, boring puzzle. Do I love this man or what?! 

After patching and painting the seams (which I'll show you in the follow-up post) I dare you to notice that the top row of planking is taller in the corner.  It is seamless and I do so lurrrve my man!

After the top and bottom planks were adhered to the wall we measured where our two central vertical planks would be.  We measured, cut and adhered the two planks ...

then added the smaller horizontal planks which we measured and cut separately to ensure a snug fit (and used the laser level to make sure they were straight). 

Our room had horrible lighting hence the headlight.
We continued along the left-side of the wall and then the right - using the laser level to ensure that the horizontal planks were all in line with each other for a nice smooth look. We started in the middle to make sure that if there were any issues with our measurements the outer two columns, which you're less likely to focus on, would take the brunt of any measuring miscalculations. In the end the outer columns are an extra 1/2-inch wider but it's unnoticeable. 

This is where we were at after a week of evenings working on this wall.

It was a lot of work (mainly because we are so Type A and insist on everything being straight) but we couldn't be happier.  It's exactly how I pictured it and even with some blips along the way (stupid uneven ceiling) we made it work and we love it!

Watch for my upcoming post about finishing up this paneled wall including the paint we used and pictures of the finished product with our new furniture.  We could not be happier with the result.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Unrelenting: Love and Resistance in Pre-War Germany

Author: Marion Kummerow
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Series: 1st in the World War II Trilogy
Source: Author
Publisher Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
First Published: June 14, 2016
First Line: "Dr Wilhem Quedlin didn't know it, but today, the course of his life was about to change."

Book Description from GoodReadsBerlin, Germany 1932. In a time of political unrest and strife, one man finds the courage to fight back...

Dr. Wilhem "Q" Quedlin, chemical engineer and inventor, lives for his science. A woman is not in his plans-nor is it to be accused of industrial espionage.

But things get worse from there.

Watching Hitler's rise to power spurns his desire to avoid yet another war that will completely destroy his beloved country. Q makes the conscious decision to fight against what he knows is wrong, even if working against the Nazis could mean certain death for him- and anyone he loves.

Hilde Dremmer has vowed to never love again. But after encountering Q, she wants to give love a second chance.

When Q discloses his resistance plan, it's up to Hilde to choose between her protected life without him or the constant threat of torture if she supports him in his fight against injustice.

She has witnessed enough of the Nazi government's violent acts to be appalled by the new political power, but will this be enough for an ordinary girl to do the extraordinary and stand beside the man she loves in a time of total desolation?

This World War II story is based on the true events of one couple's struggle for happiness while battling a war against their own leaders.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Unrelenting is the first novel in a trilogy by author Marion Kummerow which details how her grandparents met on the brink of World War II. Part love story, part history read, Kummerow reveals Hitler's ascension to power as seen through the eyes of her grandparents, Dr Wilem "Q" Quedlin and Hilde Dremmer.  

My favourite part of the book was getting the perspective of ordinary German citizens as Hitler's fanaticism takes hold over their country.  Often people will look back at major world issues and wonder 'How could people have let this happen?'. This book details exactly that and I was equally intrigued and appalled at how smoothly and expeditiously Hitler took hold of Germany and its future.  Germany's economy and people were suffering with millions of Germans out of work and many families quite literally starving.  This made it easy for Hitler to 'come to the rescue' with his sadistic and xenophobic ideas to make Germany strong again.

This historical aspect was eye-opening and my favourite part of the book.  Unfortunately, I found the characters and the relationship between Hilde and Q to be weak. I'm not a big fan of romances but I felt that the courtship was drawn out between these two characters who felt overly naive and needed more complexity to their characters and dialogue.  

I think that this is a wonderful tribute that Kummerow has written about her grandparents.  I loved being taken into pre-war Germany and having a better understanding about how Hitler could rise to such all-encompassing power using ruthless and unconscionable means to do so.  For fans of this book, the story continues in the second book in the series titled 'Unyielding: Love and Resistance in WWII Germany'.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Marion Kummerow for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Author: Lindsey Lee Johnson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Canada

First Published: January 10, 2017
First Line: "Cally Broderick lingered in the doorway of the resource office, waiting to be noticed."

Book Description from GoodReadsA captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You and Curtis Sittenfeld's PrepThe Most Dangerous Place on Earth unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school.

In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: This book focuses on the lives of a select group of teenagers in an upper-class suburb of San Francisco as they move from middle school into high school.  While it's set in beautiful California the experiences of these teens, and one of their teachers, are less than ideal as readers get glimpses into their lives and their own unique sets of problems.

The story is told using multiple POVs with each character getting their own chapter. When combined, these shorter scenes tell the bigger story of this group of teens who seem to have it all - including seemingly unlimited funds and no parental supervision. 

Johnson touches on many serious issues plaguing today's teens - the influence of social media, peer pressure, bullying, the pressure to succeed, drugs/alcohol, lack of connection with parents etc.  That's a lot of issues and honestly, it felt like she may have taken on too many issues for one book.  

Johnson's writing is good and she pulled me into her world, but I had hoped for more complexity and depth to the story lines and characters as well as less predictable endings. Several of her characters verged on clich├ęs (with Miss Nichols, the idealistic and naive teacher being the most frustrating).  With only being given a small number of pages to tell each of their stories, unfortunately I can't say that I was invested in any of their lives.

I had a love/hate relationship with this book.  While teen angst and (too?) many issues are brought to light that affect teens today, I didn't find it as powerful as I had expected and wish there was more depth to the plot and characters.  I hovered between a 2.5 and a 3-star rating but opted to bump up my rating to 3 stars because Johnson was able to keep my interest.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review and Giveaway - Sisters One, Two Three

Author: Nancy Star
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 331
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Lake Union
First Published: January 1, 2017
First Line: "Ginger Tangle had nothing against nature."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter a tragic accident on Martha’s Vineyard, keeping secrets becomes a way of life for the Tangle family. With memories locked away, the sisters take divergent paths. Callie disappears, Mimi keeps so busy she has no time to think, and Ginger develops a lifelong aversion to risk that threatens the relationships she holds most dear.

When a whispered comment overheard by her rebellious teenage daughter forces Ginger to reveal a long-held family secret, the Tangles’ carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. Upon the death of Glory, the family’s colorful matriarch, and the return of long-estranged Callie, Ginger resolves to return to Martha’s Vineyard and piece together what really happened on that calamitous day when a shadow fell over four sun-kissed siblings playing at the shore. Along with Ginger’s newfound understanding come the keys to reconciliation: with her mother, with her sisters, and with her daughter.

At turns heartbreaking, humorous, and hopeful, Sisters One, Two, Three explores not only the consequences of secrets—even secrets kept out of love—but also the courage it takes to speak the truth, to forgive, and to let go.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: The Tangle family is the focus of this book and how a tragedy which occurred decades before continues to affect each of them differently.  Family is a complicated group of relationships that can be messy, tragic, loving, funny and even heartbreaking. But it is never dull.  

In her latest book, author Nancy Star shows just how complicated these bonds can be, especially when family members are holding on to long-held secrets. Sisters One, Two Three focuses on the relationships between three generations of family members within the Tangle family.  By alternating between present day and flashbacks to their childhood, Star shows how tragedy affects people differently and how influential these familial bonds are in forming who we become in our adult lives - how we view ourselves and relate to spouses, siblings, parents and our own children.  

This is a character driven read with a good pace and some hearty twists - one of which reveals a tragic family disaster.  The reason for the family disaster was new to me and I applaud the author for bringing this issue, which is more prevalent than I would have thought, into her story line.

The characters are diverse and while they were not always likable I felt that they were well-drawn and interesting.  I can't say I was always on board with their decisions but the plot pulled me in enough that I had a hard time putting the book down in my need to find out how things would end for the Tangles.  I could relate to some of the characters, to varying degrees, but found Ginger to be a frustrating character initially with her obsessive worrying and some of her decisions as she struggles to be a good wife, mother and daughter.  I had similar feelings for Glory who was a very over-the-top character and a hard person to understand initially.  But by the end of the book I had a clearer picture of both women giving me a better understanding about the reasoning behind some of their questionable choices.

Overall, this was a good read that will give you all the feels.  From anger, to frustration, to sadness to hope, love and resolution Star brings her readers into the nitty gritty of the Tangle clan.  And with the Book Club Guide at the back of the book I think this would make a great book club selection.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest reviews.

I'm giving away one copy of Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star to one of my readers (sorry, only Canadian and American are eligible to enter).  

Enter below!  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Sun Is Also A Star

Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 348
Source: Publisher (RHC)
Publisher: Delacourt Press
First Published: November 1, 2016
First Line: "Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

Book Description from GoodReadsNatasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: A little over a year ago I read Yoon's Everything, Everything) and enjoyed the quirky and witty teen romance.  In this latest book, she has written a story about two teenagers who find each other at very critical junctures in their lives and fall in love.  

This book has it's moments of witty writing, addresses several current issues (illegal immigrants, depression/suicide, parental pressures, cultural differences ...) and has a wonderfully refreshing culturally diverse cast.  But it also had aspects that I struggled with including the weak chemistry between Natasha and Daniel and my lack of connection to them or the plot. Their InstaLove felt needy (and quite cheesy) rather than romantic to me. Perhaps readers who love all things romantic will have an easier time believing the idea of two people falling hopelessly in love with each other within 12 hours. Personally, I couldn't do it. 

While the book focuses on Daniel and Natasha, I LOVED how different perspectives of secondary, and even tertiary characters, were brought into the story line showing how even brief interactions can greatly influence others.  From a janitor, to a waitress, to a security guard and various family members, Yoon gives readers snapshots into characters' lives (as well as interesting random facts) which I think broadened the scope of the book.

Overall, this was a good, light read clearly with the romantic reader in mind.

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

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Magdalen Girls

Author: V.S Alexander
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington
First Published: December 27, 2016
First Line: "The nuns convened by the doorway like a swarm of black flies."

Book Description from GoodReadsDublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review:  I love it when I can learn a bit about history while reading a fictional tale.  In The Magdalen Girls, I learned about the Magdalen laundries during the 1960's - a place where women were imprisoned after being deemed 'fallen women' sometimes merely based on speculation and rumour of their unsavoury behaviour.  These laundries were instituted to 'rehabilitate' women who were accused of being promiscuous, reckless, having children out of wedlock, being prostitutes etc.  Their 'rehabilitation' included hard labour, forced prayer, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of nuns, minimal nourishment and ultimately no future. 

These laundries were barbaric places and provide an interesting backdrop and premise for this book. It's appalling that these laundries, which were often run by Catholic nuns, still occurred into the 19th century (with the last of these laundries closing in the late 1990's!).  They occurred not only Ireland but also in the US, Canada, Scotland, England and Australia and were used by families to deal with their daughters who they deemed wayward and not falling into line with family/religious ideals. 

While I applaud the author for bringing this difficult part of history to light the plot fell short for me.  Both the plot and dialogue were more simplistic than I had expected.  There were a couple of escape attempts as well as a twist but they felt predictable and came off as lackluster rather than exciting.  There was the addition of a supernatural element but that felt awkward at best, was only alluded to and didn't play a big enough role.  In the end, this book read more like a light historical fiction novel even though it deals with very serious subject matter.

The character development was also weaker than expected with Nora and Teagan, the two main characters, having such similar personalities that they started to blend together making it hard to connect with them individually.  Lea was the most interesting character but she fell on the outskirts of the main plot. I would have liked to get inside her head to learn about why she felt the way she did about her life at the laundry.

In the end, this was an eye-opening read that educated me about the horrific acts that were committed against young women for many decades by the Catholic Church.  While there were some aspects that were weaker than expected, I applaud the author for bringing this part of history to readers.  I encourage people to read the epilogue for more information regarding these laundries.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Mothers

Author: Brit Bennett
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback - Large Print
Pages: 400
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House
First Published: October 11, 2016
First Line: "We didn't believe when we first heard because you know how church folk can gossip."

Book Description from GoodReadsA dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  This is a book about secrets, loyalty and the repercussions regarding the choices we make.  It's also about an unlikely friendship and an improbably love.  For a debut novel, it had moments of amazing and wonderfully crafted prose.   

"It was strange, learning the contours of another’s loneliness. You could never know it all at once; like stepping inside a dark cave, you felt along the walls, bumped into jagged edges."

That's some impressive writing for a debut author.  Unfortunately, those moments were far and few between.  The plot itself felt muddled and I struggled throughout the book to connect with and stay interested in the plight of the characters. For a book that deals with serious life issues and multiple relationships (familial, romantic, friendship), the character development was thin and the issues felt too removed from the plot (for example, Aubrey's past which the author doesn't explore).

While I can't say I loved this book, it had its moments.  Certain passages were well crafted and impressive but, while Bennett interested me enough to finish the book, I can't say that she completely pulled me into her story.  Bennett shows good promise as an author and although this wasn't a home run for me I look forward to reading her next literary offering.

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