Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

3 Star

Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

Kaley- 3 Star

Everything I knew about Emily Dickinson could basically be summed up in one word: poet. If pressed, I would have made an educated guess that she was American. So, because of my limited knowledge on the famous poet, I was looking forward to reading Nuala O’Connor's novel Miss Emily. Key word: was. There was something about this novel that just fell flat for me.

I did enjoy getting to learn more about a young Dickinson, albeit a fictionalized version of her. I liked reading about her home life which, as I learned, was really what her life centred around (other than poetry, of course). She was such an introvert and disliked leaving the house. This allowed for some drama as there were times throughout the novel where you expect her to go out and be social but she doesn't.  Would she ever leave if the occasion desperately called for it?

I hate to admit it but, as the story wore on, I really didn't care too much about Emily. Her storyline wasn't the one that captivated me in this novel and she didn't interest me as much as Ada did. I don't know if Ada's personality attracted me more simply because she was more interesting or because O'Connor had more leeway to create the character. Because Emily Dickinson is a well known historical figure, O'Connor would not have been able to treat her as a character as she could Ada.

I'm a Downton Abbey fan so I really liked the upstairs/downstairs vibe the novel had. I liked being able to see how the Dickinsons' lived and, at the same time, learn how Ada had to make it in the world and what her upbringing was like. Furthering this feeling was the fact that each chapter alternated perspectives between Emily and Ada.

Looking at the reviews for Miss Emily, it seems like I'm in the minority with my lukewarm feelings. Many others have enjoyed Nuala O’Connor's novel. I think it would be a good read for those who enjoy the time period (mid-1800s) and stories with a below/above stairs dynamic. 

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Better Man by Leah McLaren

5 Star

Every couple has a wish list. 
Maya wants
Nick to come home earlier
To engage with their children
To engage with her
Nick wants . . .
A divorce

Having decided that their marriage is over, Nick is determined to leave quickly and with dignity. But when he looks into the financial realities of splitting up, he realizes that more of his hard-earned income than he can handle will go to Maya. 
Then a mutual friend proposes that Nick improve the marriage in order to end it amicably, because the better father and husband he is, the more self-sufficient Maya becomes and the cheaper his pay-out will be at the end. 
But as Nick sets out to be a better man, he starts to feel like one. Time with his kids, dinners with his wife, fewer hours in the office has the strange effect of making him happier. As Maya starts to feel appreciated by her husband again, she starts to blossom, to unclench her fists from the parenting reins and start to do things for herself. 
Nick and Maya feel like they are falling back in love. How odd, how funny, how serendipitous. But if Maya knew what had promoted this marital metamorphosis? Then it would be war.

Kathryn - 5 Star

I found the whole novel dark with underlying greyness. There was obviously a reason for this as they couple are not the on the same page about their marriage or their positions in it (or indeed the world).
Nick was so bland at first that I hardly could understand where their marriage had come from but as the novel progressed the author gently gave us a bit of background information for their mutual initial attractions. I began to understand what they had had before the arrival of their twins.

It’s an honest portrayal of a marriage sunk into unhappiness by simple miscommunication.  Having a child completely alters your universe and most parents will agree that there is something in this novel that will resonate in their own partnerships.  One or other partner will feel neglected, superfluous, guilty, unappreciated, ignored or just plain lonely during the early stages of child-rearing.  It’s hard to address these feelings when you’re sleep-deprived and solely focussed on making sure this tiny being is getting what it needs to survive to the next day, let alone next week and next thing you know is you’ve gone several years without really looking at your spouse or wondering how they’re doing. It happens, a lot.

The novel really explores what went awry in Nick and Maya’s marriage and though it seems dark and depressing I think there’s actually a lot of hopefulness in their story.  Underneath everything they are still kind people and neither one is out to “get” the other.  They just cannot see a way to be happy together and be able to give the other what is needed.

It’s a good book, not an easy read but easily readable.  I would recommend it to those who have come out of the fog of early parenthood so they can recognise that they weren’t alone or to those about to head into the fog, so they can avoid all of our mistakes.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Losing Me by Sue Margolis

5 Star

Knocking on sixty, Barbara Stirling is too busy to find herself, while caring for her mother, husband, children, and grandchildren. But when she loses her job, everything changes. Exhausted, lonely, and unemployed, Barbara is forced to face her feelings and doubts. Then a troubled, vulnerable little boy walks into her life and changes it forever.

Kathryn- 5 Star

I immediately was drawn in to Losing Me and I’m sure it was because Sue Margolis has a knack for instantly creating empathy and humour in her characters. 

I’m a little younger than Barbara but I could relate to her situation and her feelings. Her desire to leave  a legacy or make an impact isn’t something I’ve dwelled on much but in her job she really wanted her work to make a difference in the lives of the children who were struggling.

Barbara is a naturally giving person and this seems to have left her without someone to lean on- throughout her entire life she had been the strength and when she found herself adrift she finally realised that no one was left there simply to support her. Her relationship with her husband was distant, you could still see little glimmers of what it once was but Frank was so engrossed in his own purpose that he had really started to see Barbara was part of the furniture. Familiar in marriages all over the world it was a little reminder to try and remember why you chose that person in the first place. Margolis also tied in Barbara’s childhood and the relationship with her mother- the novel could have been presented without that additional history- but it added a little something to Barbara’s character. I was most fascinated with her mother’s struggles with her father’s agoraphobia. It was touched on gently but made an impact with me.

Apart from Frank and her mother Barbara’s children both still needed her to support them, financially and emotionally.  In her fifties the dynamics with her children had changed and I liked reading about it through Barbara’s eyes as it gave me some insight for my future with my children.  The in-between generation who is still needed as carer for parents, children and grand-children is not giving themselves permission to be what they need for themselves- they are still needed to provide care but as it’s not 100% of the time anymore there are hours to fill and re-discover oneself.  It’s just as every person older than myself always tells me, make sure you make time for yourself and your marriage…maybe they’re right!?

Thank you to NAL Trade Paperback for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Hummingbird by Stephen P.Kiernan

5 Star

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.

At the same time, Deborahs primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons. 

Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

Picking up this book, I purposely did not read anything about it beforehand but the cover and title intrigued me enough to dive right in. It wasn't long before I was utterly captivated by this story.

I feel like this was a very timely story, speaking about modern veterans and the demons that plague them. I have heard some of the statistics and cannot imagine the horror they have lived through and this story just made it all become much more real. Deborah is the main character yet the story largely revolves around her husband, Michael, and what is happening to him since his latest return from duty. Far from easy to deal with, Deborah searches for answers and solutions to an ever increasing distance that sits firmly between them.

The story of Barclay, the hospice patient that Deborah is currently caring for, plays an intricate and essential part to this story. I found it fascinating to see how two lives could reflect each other and in the end help each other despite many differences and years separating them.

A must read for anyone who truly wants to understand our modern society and the ills that plague it, I just could not put this book down and was somewhat sadly nostalgic when it ended.

Thank you to William Morrow for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

4 Star

In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

Kathryn - 4 Star

I found this novel initially tough to get into (which is torture for me to write as I’ve been a Judy Blume fan since I was 8!) but I am bound to write an honest impression of my thoughts!  There are lot of characters and they didn’t become clearly established for me for a good hundred pages. That being said the premise of the historical sequence of events being laid out in the book persuaded me to push through my confusion.  Of course, I’m very glad I did.

My most immediate connection was with Miri. Her voice was so honest and of the right age, an age Blume has explored before of course. Her teenage thought process was sometimes child-like and sometimes very mature- I found her fascinating to read through.

There were a host of other evocative characters and while most were supporting roles to the main person for me (Miri) I did grow really fond of Miri’s Uncle Henry and was quite attached to Miri’s boyfriend Mason. I wanted to know so much more about Mason as well as Daisy who worked with Dr.O.  While I was initially taken aback by the numbers of voices there is no doubt that each one came alive in Blume’s story telling. I just wish each one of these people had their own books so we could follow them through! 

The historical aspect of In The Unlikely Event- the three plane crashes in Elisabeth, NJ over 58 days-was completely new to me.  Not something I recall ever hearing about but it is certainly sure to have been the source of nightmares for many a child an adult of that area for years and years to come.  The horror and fear to come repeatedly during such a short time frame would have felt like a personal attack on a small town.

The book is well worth reading, a long-time Blume fan or not, as the inter-weaving stories come together to form a realistic portrait of the voices of the town at that time.

Thank you to Random House Canada for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

The Last Boat Home by Dea Brovig

4 Star

On the wind-swept southern coast of Norway, sixteen-year-old Else is out on the icy sea, dragging her oars through the waves while, above her, storm clouds are gathering. Surrounded by mountains, snow and white-capped water, she looks across the fjord and dreams of another life, of escape and faraway lands.

Back on shore, her father sits alone in his boathouse with a jar of homebrew. In the Best Room, her mother covers her bruises and seeks solace in prayer. Each tries to hide the truth from this isolated, God-fearing community they call home.

Until one night changes everything.

More than thirty years later, the return of an old friend forces Else to relive the events that marked the end of her childhood.


Michelle - 4 Star

The Last Boat Home by Dea Brovig is a slow and steady read.  Set in a small town in Norway, it is a very descriptive novel with a lot of emphasis put into describing the landscape and scenery.  For someone who has never been to Norway I found this helpful as well as somewhat educational.  I also found this was almost the author’s way of lulling the reader into a somewhat sedated and calm state of mind so that when the plot is finally revealed and the readers’ questions finally answered it is all the more climactic. 

I found the story of The Last Boat home realistic and tragic.  Else is a young girl who instead of enjoying life and having fun, is saddled with secrets.  Living in a small town with an emphasis on religion and Christian values, Else feels compelled to keep many secrets, not just her own, but those of her mother and her alcoholic and abusive father.  Dea Brovig does a good job of keeping the reader on edge trying to figure out who is the father of Else’s baby.  When the mystery was finally revealed, it was nothing that I could have predicted.  

The novel does a good job of jumping back and forth between the past when Else was a young girl, to the present, where she is now a mother and grandmother.   Dea Brovig does a nice job of transitioning the reader through both time periods without making it too confusing or hard to follow.  There are not a lot of characters and the ones that are introduced in the beginning carry out throughout the whole novel which made it easy to keep track of everyone and not have to go back and remind myself who was who again. 

Overall I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.  It was a nice slow read with an even pace. Great for rainy day or cottage reading.  

Thank you to Penguin Random House UK for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sit! Stay! Speak! by Annie England Noblin

3 Star

Addie Andrews is living a life interrupted. Tragedy sent her fleeing from Chicago to the shelter of an unexpected inheritance—her beloved aunt’s somewhat dilapidated home in Eunice, Arkansas, population very tiny. There she reconnects with some of her most cherished childhood memories. If only they didn’t make her feel so much!

People say nothing happens in small towns, but Addie quickly learns better. She’s got an elderly next door neighbor who perplexingly dances outside in his underwear, a house needing more work than she has money, a best friend whose son uncannily predicts the weather, and a local drug dealer holding a massive grudge against her.

Most surprising of all, she’s got a dog. But not any dog, but a bedraggled puppy she discovered abandoned, lost, and in desperate need of love. Kind of like Addie herself. She’d come to Eunice hoping to hide from the world, but soon she discovers that perhaps she’s finding the way back—to living, laughing, and loving once more.

Sabrina-Kate - 3 Star

Although this book was very readable, I didn't necessarily find it entirely plausible so, for that reason, I did not rate it higher. Despite the fact that it was enjoyable, I wanted something more from the story and found myself a tiny bit disappointed in what I felt could have been much more.

The characters were cute but necessarily realistic. I was frustrated at times with what I felt was an unnecessary naivety on Abbie's part. Yes, it is normal to do some searching in your life to discover who you really are but I am not sure that it was entirely normal at her stage of life.

The story had a lot of interesting characters and plot twists and was definitely not at all predictable which is probably one of the things I enjoyed about it the most. I was not able to anticipate any upcoming event and this made the story more intriguing. But despite all that, I feel like it could have been a much more powerful story in some way. I can't say exactly how but it felt like there was something just off kilter about how things all played out.

So I didn't love but I didn't hate this story and know that I did enjoy it. I even read it quite quickly so it isn't that it isn't worth picking up but that you have to not expect anything more than a cute story.

Thank you to William Morrow for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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