Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Best Day Ever

Author: Kaira Rouda
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Graydon House
First Published: September 19, 2017
First Line: "I glance at my wife as she climbs into the passenger seat, sunlight bouncing off her shiny blond hair like sparkler's lit for the Fourth of July, and I am bursting with confidence."

Book Description from GoodReadI glance at my wife as she climbs into the passenger seat, and I am bursting with confidence. Today will be everything I’ve promised her…and more…

Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really? 

Forcing us to ask ourselves just how well we know those who are closest to us, Best Day Ever crackles with dark energy, spinning ever tighter toward its shocking conclusion. In the bestselling, page-turning vein of The Couple Next Door and The Dinner, Kaira Rouda weaves a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage…or a life.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Graydon House for providing me with a digital copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Best Day Ever is a domestic thriller that takes readers on a wild ride of secrets, betrayal and deceit. Readers witness one full day in the lives of Paul and Mia Strom as they set off on a short holiday that they expect to be the 'best day ever'. As the minutes and hours tick by, readers are privy to the main character's innermost feelings and motivations and witness their idyllic holiday spin out of control. 

The beginning of the book has a slower pace than I had expected and I'll admit that it took me awhile to feel invested in Paul and Mia's lives. But if readers are patient they'll enjoy the slow building of tension as the author reveals, in wee doses, the cracks in her main character's perfect veneer. 

You never know what goes on behind closed doors and Rouda brings this idea home by giving her readers a chilling, bird's eye view of a dysfunctional and toxic relationship that appears perfect to those who know the Stroms. Best Day Ever is a story of a sociopath who has manipulated people and events to build a perfect life. This character will easily go down as one of the least likable yet compelling characters I can remember reading. You can't help but be mesmerized and a little bit fearful of their narcissism, sense of entitlement and total lack of empathy.
   
The story has a slow build and while some of the plot was predictable to this well-read suspense reader, overall this was a good creepy page turner that readers will have a hard time putting down. It has a memorable evil character and I enjoyed how the simple plot is slowly infused with a sinister feel as Rouda unfolds her story and reveals her characters' true natures to her readers.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Crispy Breaded Tomato Slices (with Balsamic Glaze and Parmesan)

It's the end of summer and my tomato plants runneth over. Knowing that one of my superpowers is growing tomatoes, this year I opted to plant only one beefsteak tomato plant and it's going gangbusters. Not to be left out of the fun, I also have a cherry tomato plant which started growing on its own from, apparently, seeds left in the soil from last year's crop. So, once again, I'm Crazy Tomato Lady giving tomatoes away left, right and centre.

Beefsteak tomatoes are big, juicy and a deep red.  They're great on burgers, sandwiches or even just on their own with a little salt and pepper. As with many foods, they're also wonderful if you bread and fry them up. The addition of the Panko bread crumbs gives these little gems a crispy coating on the outside and warm tomatoey goodness on the inside that, when paired with balsamic glaze and fresh Parmesan, make these a delicious and impressive appetizer or side dish.



2 large, firm tomatoes - cored and sliced into approx. 1/4-inch thick slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and Pepper - to taste
2 eggs
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/2 cup regular (fine) bread crumbs
1 1/4 tsp Italian seasoning (or a mixture of basil, thyme and oregano)
Oil for frying

Garnish
Balsamic glaze
Fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Place flour, salt and pepper in another shallow dish. Set aside.

Scramble eggs in a small bowl and pour into a shallow dish. Set aside

Combine the Panko crumbs, the fine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning and place it in, you guessed it, another shallow dish and set it aside too.

Using 'one hand only' method**, dip each side of a tomato slice into the flour mixture, followed by the egg mixture (let it drip a bit) and finally into the bread crumb mixture ensuring that the tomato slice is well coated.  Set aside breaded tomato slices on a baking sheet.  

** The 'one hand method' of dipping is helpful because breading is a messy business so having only one hand gooped up with flour, egg and crumbs is the way to go. At least this way you at least have one usable hand to do other things.


Once you have a couple of the slices prepped, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, pour in oil (so you have about 1/4-inch of oil in the pan - I used a little less and I think a little more oil would have been better). By the time you've finished breading the remaining tomato slices your oil should be up to temperature and shimmering.

Carefully place a few tomato slices into the hot oil ensuring that the slices aren't crowded.  Fry until the first side is golden brown and carefully turn each slice to the other side to brown.  


Drain slices on paper towel and serve immediately drizzled with a balsamic glaze and Parmesan.  Enjoy!


Source: The Baking Bookworm

Friday, 15 September 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Author: Jesmyn Ward
GenreContemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 285
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: Sept 5, 2017
First Line: "I like to think I know what death is."

Book Description from GoodReads: Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she's high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie's children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward's distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
 


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

My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing deals with several serious issues such as poverty, bigotry, drug abuse and loss within a dysfunctional family in Mississippi. One would think I'd be pulled into a story that dealt with such emotionally charged subjects and yet I struggled throughout the book to connect with the plot and characters.

There are several things that just didn't work for me. First, the tone of the book was very monotone with a consistently depressing feel throughout. While the writing could be quite beautiful at times but the addition of the ghosts (who even had their own chapters) felt distracting and made the flow of the plot confusing. 

The live characters didn't fare better. With the exception of Jojo (and his wonderful bond with his toddler sister, Kayla) the characters were one-dimensional. But I stayed with the book in the hopes that things would come together.

My biggest issue with the book is the persistent niggling feeling like I was missing something - some bigger meaning, especially pertaining to the ghosts. It was like I was just on the cusp of getting the author's point and that is a frustrating feeling to have. 

Unfortunately, this book just wasn't a good fit for me. Other people have waxed poetic about this book and the emotions they felt while reading it and that's wonderful but I didn't have the same experience. This is a haunting, depressing look at a family that is almost completely fractured and, at times, had me incensed at how these children were being treated by their parents. Unfortunately, that was the only emotion that this book invoked within me. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Elizabeth Street

Author: Laurie Fabiano
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Own copy
Publisher: AmazonEncore
First Published: 2006
First Line: "We lived at 202 Elizabeth Street."

Book Description from GoodReadsBased on true events, Elizabeth Street is a multigenerational saga that opens in an Italian village in the 1900's, and crosses the ocean to New York's Lower East Side. At the heart of the novel is Giovanna, whose family is targeted by the notorious Black Hand--the precursor to the Mafia. 

Elizabeth Street brings to light a period in history when Italian immigrant neighborhoods lived in fear of Black Hand extortion and violence--a reality that defies the romanticized depiction of the Mafia. 

Here, the author reveals the merciless terror of the Black Hand-and the impact their crimes had on her family. Giovanna is based on Fabiano's great-grandmother, and the book's heroes and villains - such as Lieutenant Petrosino, the crusading cop and "Lupo the Wolf," a cold-blooded criminal - are drawn from real life in this thrilling tale. While set in a dynamic historical context, Elizabeth Street is, above all, the dramatic story of the heroine, Giovanna, and how she triumphed over tragedy.


My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review: This is an e-book that I've had on my Kindle for over two years and finally cracked it open while I was on vacation in Croatia last month.   

The book is a familial saga set in the heart of an Italian family in early 1900's New York City, loosely based on the author's own family. At the time, NYC was experiencing an influx of immigrants and the prejudice against Italian immigrants was blatant as was the power and terror that the Black Hand held over its countrymen. These tidbits of history are woven into the plot throughout the book but, at times, it felt like the plot came second to her opportunity to add in a unique historical setting, for example, an impromptu trip to Coney Island.

Fabiano uses multiple timelines to tell her story but it often came off as awkward and distracting as the plot jumped back and forth. I also didn't enjoy being told about a major plot point early in the book which made for a lackluster second half of the book since I knew how things would pan out. 

The subject and era was interesting but for a book with such high ratings I found the writing to be clunky and mediocre at best with the letters that Giovanna received from the Black Hand coming off as silly and juvenile (and hard to read on my Kindle).  For a story that is loosely based on her own family, Fabiano's storytelling felt detached and many of her characters' actions felt improbable. Add in that there was too much 'telling, not enough showing' in regards to the plot and writing style and you can see why this book didn't live up to my expectations.

There was potential for a great, sweeping saga of a read but I don't think that Fabiano's writing was up to the task. Overall, a light read set in an interesting era but there are other books with similar plots that do a better job of showcasing the subject and early 20th century New York immigrant experience.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Heart's Invisible Furies

Author: John Boyne
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 580
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Hogarth Press
First Published: August 11, 2017
First Line: "Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the alter of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, a sweeping, heartfelt saga about the course of one man's life, beginning and ending in post-war Ireland

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery -- or at least, that's what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn't a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
 


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

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I loved this book. 

It has been awhile since I've felt such a connection to a book and become so totally immersed in a character. Yes, it's that good and I was hooked from the first line (see above). The Heart's Invisible Furies is an honest and eye-opening look at the complicated life of an Irish man who has forever felt unmoored in his life. 

This epic read spans 7 decades of the life of Cyril Avery (although he's not a 'real' Avery!) as he struggles to find himself and the courage to show the world who he is. Some choices were made for him, others by him. Some were good decisions, some had me shaking my head and others hurt my heart but I always felt in his corner.

Boyne's storytelling hits a whole new high as he adeptly uses foreshadowing to tease his readers with tidbits about Cyril's future. Never before have I read a book that gives such brilliant hints about its characters and plot that got my attention and intrigued me without giving too much away or interrupting the flow of the plot. Sure, there were a few all-too-convenient crossovers with characters but these secondary characters were such pivotal parts of the book and I looked forward to seeing who would reappear in Cyril's life.

This story is about finding oneself and the many different relationships we have in our lives - the messy, loving, complicated, fractured, soul-crushing and those precious bonds that heal. It also has hilarious, giggle-out-loud, dry humour which is interspersed with a raw, honest look at a man struggling to find out who he is within the confines of his conservative Irish culture and the opinionated and often bigoted views of the Catholic church. Boyne doesn't shy away from big issues, one of which was the Catholic Church's hold over Ireland and its hypocrisy. Other issues raised are IRA violence, the prejudice and injustice against the gay population and the terror and misinformation about the AIDS epidemic. 

This book had me laughing, almost in tears, angry and shocked. Cyril is a complicated character whose stumbles and successes always rang true to his character. Readers will be engrossed in his struggle to find himself with Boyne's emotional, laugh-out-loud funny and engaging writing pulling them along the way. Cyril is a lost soul that readers can't help but cheer on.

I highly recommend this book.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gather the Daughters

Author: Jennie Melamed
Genre: Dystopian
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Published: July 25, 2017
First Line: "Vanessa dreams she is a grown woman, heavy with flesh and care."

Book Description from GoodReadsYears ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers--chosen male descendants of the original ten--are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smoldering fires.

The daughters of these men are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony. They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die. But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme. With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly--they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers' hands and their mothers' despair. And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.

Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.

Gather The Daughters is a smoldering debut; dark and energetic, compulsively readable, Melamed's novel announces her as an unforgettable new voice in fiction.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: With its dystopian setting and a cult-like group who sets themselves apart from the greater world this book's blurb was giving off an intense, slightly creepy vibe which intrigued me.

Unfortunately, this book didn't work for me on a few levels. Continually at the forefront of the book is the horrifying subject matter which varied from a total lack of women's rights, teen orgies and leading up to the glaring and horrific ongoing incest/sexual abuse. These are difficult, emotional and intense subjects that I found hard to read.  

The story is set within a small population which has set itself apart from the greater society. It's an interesting idea but the author doesn't go far enough with this concept. Readers aren't given enough backstory about how and why their small world was created except that the leaders are following what their forefathers wanted. Nor are we shown what life is like for the greater world (referred to as the Wastelands). I needed more explanation and kept reading hoping for some enlightenment about both worlds but no insight came. 

It also didn't help that there wasn't ANYTHING remotely redeemable about this small society and its demented rules/mores. The abuse was rampant and felt like it was used more for shock value because not much was happening with regards to the plot. I wanted to see the girls kick start a change within their society or something huge to happen but, for much of the book, the focus was only on the abuse and I found myself skimming through.  

The story's weak plot is told via the POVs of several teenage girls. But even with each telling their own story I didn't feel like I got to know any of them well. They remained almost indistinguishable from each other and I resorted to making a cheat sheet to keep track of them. Not a good sign.

If a horrifying, uncomfortable read is what the author was going for then I give full stars but as a reader, the continually alarming, sickening abuse was too much. I'm still at a loss to figure out the point of this book. The subject matter was so extreme and yet readers are left hanging as to how and why this small society came to be and how it has gone unnoticed by the greater world. This is a book about the antithesis of a good society filled with patriarchal control and rampant abuse. I believe this book will be discussed a lot due to its extreme and shocking subject matter but I cannot recommend this book.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Promise of Ruin

Author: Cuyler Overholt
Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery

Series: #2 in the Dr. Genevieve Summerford series
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "On the last day of life as she knew it, Teresa Casoria stood at the rail of the steamship Madonna and watched the sun rise over America."

Book Description from GoodReadsTo stop the trafficking ring plaguing her city, Dr. Genevieve Summerford must dive into New York’s underworld 

In early 1900's New York, the formidable crime syndicate known as the Black Hand has been terrorizing the city's Italian community with bombings and kidnappings. When a young Italian girl is found drowned and sexually defiled, Dr. Genevieve Summerford suspects the organization has expanded into forced prostitution, and she won't rest until the trafficking ring is brought to justice.


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

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My ReviewSet in early 1900's New York City, A Promise of Ruin is the second book in the Dr Genevieve Summerford historical mystery series. Genna is a young psychologist and continues to struggle to make a name for herself especially since some people think her profession is not something a woman should strive for.

Central to the plot is the plight of Italian immigrants who flooded New York City at the time but the strength of this book is in its historical information and the blatant prejudice against these immigrants. The Blackhand, a group of Italians who prayed on their fellow countrymen with abuse, threats and extortion as well as sex-trafficking, kidnapping, sex abuse etc are important and eye-opening parts of the plot.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed from the first book was a look at the psychiatric profession through the eyes of a woman in the early 20th century.  That struggle is focused on less in this book and readers who dive right into this book (which could be read as a standalone) will miss out on much of that important aspect of the series.

The mystery itself was good but lacked the energy of the first book and I felt that the romance between Genna and Simon ran a little lukewarm. While it took me a bit to get back into the characters lives, the plot ramps up with a solid ending. I look forward to more books featuring Dr Summerford.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

My Sister's Keeper

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 423 
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Washington Square Press
First Published: April 6, 2004
First Line: "In my first memory, I am three years old and I am trying to kill my sister."

Book Description from GoodReadsAnna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged... until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister—and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

A provocative novel that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister's Keeper is the story of one family's struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning parable for all time.


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: My Sister's Keeper was one of those books that I had always meant to read but just never got around to (I never even saw the movie). But as part of my 2017 Read What I Own challenge I finally picked up the copy of this book that has been sitting on my bookshelves for years.

This story has all the aspects one expects from a Picoult novel. Emotionally charged issue, family drama and a court case. But where the book falters is with emotion. As a mother myself, you'd think I'd be a mushy mess picturing myself in the shoes of Sara but I didn't connect with her at all and found her to be quite wooden.

I liked Campbell, the ornery lawyer, whose one-liners about his service dog brought some levity to the story but I figured out the 'mystery' surrounding why he needed the dog immediately. And while I didn't predict the twist at the end, it felt added on for one last hit of emotion. After all that drama you end the book like THAT?? It felt contrived and a bit of a cop out.

Overall, I'm glad I finally read this book. Picoult, as usual, raises some interesting ethical issues which this time out include a child's right to her own body and the idea of creating 'designer babies'. This would be a good book for Picoult fans or anyone who likes a book centred around some emotionally charged issues.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Stranger in the House

Author: Shari Lapena
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 423
Source: Publisher
First Published: August 15, 2017
First Line: "She doesn't belong here."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door, a new thriller featuring a suspicious accident, a wife who can't account for herself and unsettling questions that threaten to tear a couple apart.

You come home after a long day at work, excited to have dinner with your beautiful wife.
But when you walk through the door, you quickly realize that she's not there.
In the kitchen, there is a pot on the stove, and vegetables on the counter, abandoned.
Her cellphone and her purse are still in the house, in the bedroom, exactly where she keeps them.
It looks like she's left in a blind panic.
You fear the worst, so you call her friends to see if they know where she is.
Then you call the police.
The police tell you that your wife's been in an accident. They found her in the worst part of town, after she lost control of the car while speeding through the streets. But why would she go to that neighbourhood? And why was she driving so fast? Was she running toward something? Or away from something?
The police think your wife was up to no good.
You refuse to believe it, at first.
Then, as the stories and facts don't line up, and your wife can't remember what happened that evening, you start to wonder. You've been married for two years and you thought you knew her better than anyone else in the world . . . but maybe you don't. 
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to DoubleDay Canada for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Last year I found Shari Lapena's debut novel, The Couple Next Door, gripping, intense and filled with twists that messed with my head. Oh ya, it was that good and easily became one of my favourite summer reads of 2016.

Lapena is back with her sophomore novel and once again there are twists and suspicions run rampant but, unfortunately, I can't say that it lived up to my expectations. My expectations were, admittedly, rather high based on how much I loved her first book but this time around the intensity was lacking and a few of the twists were predictable.

The book started off very strong with an interesting premise but I hesitated to up my rating to four stars for a few reasons. First, I wasn't a fan of the characters. While you get their points of view I still didn't feel like I knew them and none were very likable. I need to be able to get behind a character and I just didn't have a connection to any of them. I also thought the writing style/dialogue felt a little awkward this time around and I wasn't a fan of the ending.

While this wasn't quite as explosive of a read as I had been expecting, it did keep me guessing and was a quick read which would make it a good summer pick. Fans of slow simmering suspense filled with mystery, fear, obsession and some intrigue, who enjoy a long list of suspects to keep them guessing should enjoy this read.  


Monday, 7 August 2017

Close to Home

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: #5 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "D'Andre Miller pushed open the glass doors of the Rainier Beach Community Center and stepped out into the frigid night."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhile investigating the hit-and-run death of a young boy, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite makes a startling discovery: the suspect is an active-duty serviceman at a local naval base. After a key piece of case evidence goes missing, he is cleared of charges in a military court. But Tracy knows she can’t turn her back on this kind of injustice.

When she uncovers the driver’s ties to a rash of recent heroin overdoses in the city, she realizes that this isn’t just a case of the military protecting its own. It runs much deeper than that, and the accused wasn’t acting alone. For Tracy, it’s all hitting very close to home.

As Tracy moves closer to uncovering the truth behind this insidious conspiracy, she’s putting herself in harm’s way. And the only people she can rely on to make it out alive might be those she can no longer trust.



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.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: The Tracy Crosswhite series is one of my go-to series when I want edge-of-your-seat scenes and a solid main character who has just enough baggage, humour, stubbornness, courage and back-up to get the job done.

The series features Tracy Crosswhite, a homicide detective in the Violent Crimes division of the Seattle police force. Close to Home, the fifth installment of the series, is a multi-layered story that focuses on the hit-and-run of a child and the heroin epidemic. 

Dugoni gives readers a lot to think about and balances the emotional affects of losing a loved one to drugs with a no-holds-barred look at street drugs. He brings up several interesting, and sometimes controversial, topics including the benefits of free clinics as safe injection sites for addicts to decrease the risk of overdosing and how the legalization of marijuana has caused drastic change in the drugs that are readily available on the street. These issues add much to the plot and their ramifications are far more complicated than I had ever imagined. 

This gritty plot line gets personal as readers witness how the overdosing of his niece has greatly affected Del Castigliano, one of Tracy's fellow homicide detectives. Del takes the reigns for much of the book and his grief over his niece was touching and gave his character depth. I also enjoyed the introduction of Celia McDaniel - she's an intelligent, strong woman who adds much to Del's story line. While Tracy shares the spotlight this time out, her personal life, though touching, didn't grab me quite as much and I fear how this plot line will influence future books.

I wouldn't say that this book grabbed me as much as others in the series but it was still a solid read. I'm not a big fan of military story lines and while the view into the Navy and JAG added something different, the military legal plot line fell a little flat for me. I also had issues with the fact that Del would be allowed to work on his niece's case - I can't see that ever happening, staffing issues or not, buuuut it's fiction and Del's story line was my favourite of the bunch.

This is a twisty, multi-layered suspense read that brings the issue of addiction and drugs to the forefront while giving readers a look into the Navy's hierarchy and its JAG system. If you're looking for a great series with strong characters and some edge-of-your-seat, twisty action then I highly recommend this series.

Note: While these books can be read as stand-alones I'd recommend reading them in order or at least reading My Sister's Grave first to understand where Tracy's emotional scars come from.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

What To Say Next

Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 292
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Delacorte Press
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "An unprecedented event: Kit Lowell just sat down next to me in the cafeteria."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things comes a charming and poignant story about two struggling teenagers who find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. For fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Niven, and Rainbow Rowell.

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her. 

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

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

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This book is about the unexpected relationship between two teens - a popular girl and a boy with Asperger's. 

Kit is struggling over the death of her father and while her friends have been supportive, they are ready for her to move on. But Kit isn't ready. Frustrated, she eats lunch with David, a boy known for his quirky behaviour, and finds his direct honesty refreshing and much needed.  

David is a unique character and, like Kit, I enjoyed getting a look at the world through his eyes. Kit and David are polar opposites on the social spectrum; he's a loner and Kit is popular but they seem to fill in the spaces that the other person lacks. Secondary characters are used well in the story and I appreciated that they
 aren't just fluffy sidekicks. Instead, they add a lot to helping the reader to better understand Kit and David.

This book has a lighter feel but still tackles some big issues and I liked seeing the underlying theme of diversity. Whether it's cultural diversity (Kit is half East Indian/half white) or social diversity in the school cafeteria, I appreciated how that theme was woven into the general story.

Overall, this was a good read but it wasn't until the twist at the end that this book garnered an extra star from me. I love it when authors can surprise me and Buxbaum's revelation made me view some relationships/events in a different light. This Teen read has its unique characters as well as cute, awkward, sad and uplifting moments making it a great pick for a summer read. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Movie Review: Gifted (2017)


Actors: Chris Evans,  McKenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Family Drama
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Run Time: 100 minutes


My Review: I don't think I've ever reviewed a movie on my blog but there's a first time for everything.

And I reaaaally loved this movie.

Gifted is a touching story about family (in all its many, complicated forms), loss, forgiveness and helping children reach their potential in the various aspects of their lives. It's the story about a young girl named Mary whose uncle is dedicated to raising her to be a normal child.  But Mary isn't normal.  She's a math prodigy whose family has more than their fair share of baggage.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie but picked it up at the library because, let's be honest, Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer are in a movie together. Did I mention Chris Evans?  But I digress ... I knew very little about this movie before popping it in my DVD player but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became engaged in the lives of Frank and Mary. 

This film has got a lot of heart, a touch of humour and, like I mentioned, a truly stellar cast. We have Chris 'Captain America' Evans as Frank Adler, the uncle who is trying to do his best to raise his young and brilliant niece so that she leads a normal life. I enjoyed seeing a new, tender side to Evans and I liked that he got to exercise his acting chops more than his biceps in this movie. 

Then you have Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who is always captivating and could play a potted palm that would leave me slack jawed in awe of her. The only person in this film who can hold a candle to Ms Spencer may be young McKenna Grace who plays Mary Adler, the 7-year-old child at the heart of the movie. Wow, can this girl act. Grace is as talented as her eye lashes are long. Her portrayal of the precocious, brilliant young girl is wonderfully natural, touching and believable. She vacillates between childish innocence, a spunky attitude (and a wee case of potty mouth) and shows viewers Mary's extraordinary brilliance which is well beyond her years. The deep connection between Evans and Grace comes through to the audience and I recommend that viewers keep some Kleenex handy.  

The cast of characters also had a complexity to them that I wasn't expecting. This is a complicated family situation filled with emotion, power struggles and grief. You'll feel for Frank as he struggles to figure out what is best for Mary in the wake of family upheaval that threatens to damage the bond between them. 

Overall, this is a wonderful little movie that is endearing, poignant and shows the complexities of family. You will quickly become wrapped up in the lives of Frank, Mary and even Fred, their one-eyed cat. I highly recommend this movie.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Bring Her Home

Author: David Bell
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "Bill Price stepped into the whirling chaos of the emergency room."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the breathtaking new thriller from David Bell, bestselling author of Since She Went Away and Somebody I Used to Know, the fate of two missing teenage girls becomes a father's worst nightmare.... 

Just a year and a half after the tragic death of his wife, Bill Price's fifteen-year-old daughter, Summer, and her best friend, Haley, disappear. Days later, the girls are found in a city park. Haley is dead at the scene, while Summer is left beaten beyond recognition and clinging to life.

As Bill holds vigil over Summer's bandaged body, the only sound the unconscious girl can make is one cryptic and chilling word: No. And the more time Bill spends with Summer, the more he wonders what happened to her. Or if the injured girl in the hospital bed is really his daughter at all.

When troubling new questions about Summer's life surface, Bill is not prepared for the aftershocks. He'll soon discover that both the living and the dead have secrets. And that searching for the truth will tear open old wounds that pierce straight to the heart of his family...

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

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is my first David Bell book and I was initially attracted to its vibrant cover and then enticed by its summary. Missing girls, secrets and potentially mistaken identities? Sounds good, right?

Bring Her Home is a well paced domestic thriller with short chapters that keep the story flowing. There are a few (obvious) red herrings and I picked out the culprit early on but there were a couple of twists that surprised me. Unfortunately, I found the plot lacked the intensity that I expect from a suspense read and it wasn't until later in the book that I felt wrapped up in the plot.

This book has a great premise but it's biggest issue was its main character, Bill. Readers spend a lot of time in Bill's head and it's not a nice place to be. He's an angry man who struggles daily to keep his volatile temper in check. Granted, he has had to deal with much loss and normally I'd be all over supporting a character like that. But any sympathy I had for him was quickly lost when he'd repeatedly and regularly lose his cool and lash out with little to no provocation. He seems to care about his daughter but his hotheadedness and his awkward, repetitive inner dialogue seemed to take centre stage to his paternal feelings. That got on my nerves and gave the book more of a movie-of-the-week, overly dramatized feel.

Overall, this was a decent read. It has its suspenseful moments, some twists and a great premise but fell a little short in its character development and dialogue. If you're looking for a lighter, summery, sittin'-by-the-pool kind of suspense read then you may want to pick this one up.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Hum If You Don't Know The Words

Author: Bianca Marais
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Setting: South Africa
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 420
Source: Publisher
Publisher: G.P Putnam Books
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "I joined up the last two lines of the hopscotch grid and wrote a big "10" in the top square."

Book Description from GoodReadsPerfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970's Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
 


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


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Hum If You Don't Know The Words is a wonderful book that gave me all the feels. It made me cry, laugh, angry, shocked and even hopeful. But what surprised me was that this is Bianca Marais' debut novel. Marais uses imagery and beautiful, even poetic, language to describe South Africa's multicultural and linguistic diversity as well as the complicated and blatantly bigoted dynamics between South Africans in the 1970's. 

I have always been an avid reader of books dealing with racism and civil rights and after reading (and loving) Trevor Noah's book Born a Crime a couple of months ago I have become more interested in books related to Apartheid. With this book, Marais sheds light on the flagrant racism and abuse of power of Apartheid and also addresses other issues including homophobia, loss, grief, abandonment, bravery and the deep need we have for family connections.


Marais humanizes Apartheid by showing how the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976 affected her two main characters. The story is narrated by two very different points of view - Beauty, a highly educated Black Xhosa single mother and teacher from the Transkei region and Robin, a 10-year-old white girl from the Johannesburg suburbs. These two are brought together after the Uprising and show two contrasting views of the effects of Apartheid and the prevalent, often flippant attitude of racism as the status quo.


Both Robin and Beauty are given equal page time and are well-rounded characters but I had a much stronger connection to Beauty.  She had such strength, tenacity, grace and conviction even after enduring unimaginable losses and hardship. Robin is precocious and deals with the loss of her family in her unique way. She was often used to bring some humour to the story. While these lighter moments offset the more serious scenes, at times, it got to be a bit much.

I will caution readers that there were a few scenes, especially towards the end involving Robin, that will require readers to suspend belief. This is fiction, I get that, but I think that the story went a little too far past what I'd feel was plausible. That is the only part of the book that faltered for me. Otherwise, this is an outstanding read that will keep readers transfixed. 


Hum If You Don't Know The Words will hit readers in the heart, head and hopefully conscience about how we need to treat and respect others. A little compassion, respect and empathy can go a long, long way. This is a poignant and important story that shows the damaging and long-lasting effects of inequality and bigotry with heart, some humour and wonderfully vivid language.


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