Saturday, March 31, 2012

Room by Emma Donoghue

5 Star

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born and where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night, Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe, in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where Old Nick has kept her for seven years, since she was nineteen. Through ingenuity and determination, Ma has created a life for herself and her son, but she knows it’s not enough for either of them. Jack’s curiosity is building alongside Ma’s desperation -- and Room can’t contain either of them for much longer...

Kathryn - 5 Star

Room is horrendously fascinating, thoroughly bizarre and completely enthralling and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I started reading.  It’s actually been a bit difficult to write a review though because I certainly don’t want to come across as lighthearted about the seriousness of characters and their situation. 
Room was, in fact, actually not as difficult to read as I thought it would be. I think Donoghue having chosen to write this amazing story through the eyes of a 5 year old is the one thing that makes is readable and if it was written from the perspective of the mother I don’t think we’d actually be able to stomach it.  The innocence and simplicity of a child makes it something you can absorb without getting quite so angry and is the key to Donoghue’s success.
I have never spoken to anyone who has been imprisoned and can’t even begin to imagine how that would feel  but the author makes the reality seem plausible and possible while still maintaining the horrific nature of the situation in the background.  While the plot line is simple, the details and intricacies of their physical space and their daily lives is what I found most interesting.  The minute details of the relationship between mother and child are also perfect and certainly made lumps form in my throat.  Jack and his mother are sharing the same room but are seeing it from completely different perspectives- her imagination and determination to raise her child in a happy place (even an 11x11 foot room) is amazing and made my heart ache for her.
It’s hard to imagine being able to get into the headspace to write such a novel and I admire Donoghue so much for her thoughtful portrayal of the emotions. Fair warning though Room is not always an easy read- but please know that in this wonderful novel there is a lot of sweetness between mother and son as well as the infinite challenge of their situation.

Connect with Emma Donoghue:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Heart Vegas by Lindsey Kelk

5 Star

Angela has been given the news that she must leave New York to return the UK - her visa has been revoked following the loss of her job. But Alex, her gorgeous singer boyfriend, wants her to move in with him and plan the future. What she doesn′t need is a girls′ trip to Vegas just before Christmas - especially when Manhattan at Christmas is so gorgeous that she never wants to go home...

Lydia - 5 Star

I adore Lindsey Kelk’s novels and I Heart Vegas is no exception. In fact, it might even have vaulted into my favourite of the I Heart Series. Full of Vegas drama in typical Angela style, I laughed out loud and even shed a few tears with this one right along with Angela’s ups and downs.
Angela Clark is back with all her antics, insecurities and amusing decisions. For some reason, her plight in I Heart Vegas felt the most real to me - perhaps why I connected with this novel the most. I could understand the reasons why she didn’t want to bring up the subject with Alex and why she didn’t want the outcome her friends were pushing on her, although I could see their point too. I also loved the revisit to Vegas, which I’ve travelled to once before and enjoyed reliving it, albeit not quite at the same intoxicated pace and emotional duress that Angela explored it from, but I loved reading about her adventures there.
Angela’s internal dialogue and predicaments are as amusing as ever. I’ve said it my last two reviews of Kelk's I Heart series before, but I’ll repeat in case you haven’t *gasp* read them yet – I love that in these novels the heroine already has a boyfriend and isn’t just searching for love but instead they explores their relationship. There are few novels like this – Many are either; single and searching, boyfriend pre breakup or married and managing.
I loved the unpredictability of I Heart Vegas. Kelk dragged it out mercilessly and I wasn’t quite sure how the end of would play out even though I thought I did from the beginning. Kelk convinced me that what I had anticipated wasn’t going to occur after all and with already knowing the title of the next novel, I was bamboozled right up until the end about which way things were going to go both with her life and love.

I suspect this novel would stand alone well if you didn’t want to read all the novels in the series, but why would you want to do that? And if you’re already an Angela fan, you definitely won’t be disappointed!  I can’t wait for the next one in the series now!  Bring on London !  And I only have to wait a few more months!  SQUEE! 

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for our review copy! All opinions are our own.

Follow Lindsey Kelk here:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Grown-up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

5 Star

Every fifteen years, trouble comes after the Slocumb women. Now, as their youngest turns fifteen, a long-hidden grave is unearthed in the backyard. Headstrong young Mosey Slocumb is determined to find out who used their yard as a make-shift cemetery, and why. What she learns could cost her family everything.  As forty-five year old Ginny fights to protect Mosey from the truth, she’s thrown back into the arms of the long-lost---and married---love of her life. Between them is Liza, silenced by a stroke, with the answers trapped inside her. To survive Liza's secrets and Mosey's insistent adventures, Ginny must learn to trust the love that braids the strands of their past---and stop at nothing to defend their future.

Lydia - 5 Star

I LOVED this novel. I laughed. I chocked up. I grinned. I cried. I giggled. A Grown Up Kind of Pretty has everything I love in a novel – a unpredictable plot, emotion that leaps off the pages and characters as real and believable as the person sitting next to me. An ode to the bonds of family, regardless of its makeup, and the enduring strength of women, A Grown up Kind of Pretty is a compelling page turner that will keep you up late at night.

Narrated via alternating viewpoints of three main characters, each of which delivers a sucker punch to the heart, Big, Liza and Mosey reveal that not all families are perfect and immerse us into their lives full of secrets that all three generations of Slocumb women are desperate to keep from each other and the outside world. Although not able to directly relate to their circumstances, life in the South, or the strife they have suffered through, I could sympathize and somehow relate and really, really liked each character even though I didn’t always agree with their choices. They were all deliciously flawed, utterly likeable and will remain with me long after I finished the last sentence.
Initially I was wary of Liza’s viewpoint with her limited speech capability and her wandering thoughts, but Jackson did a marvelous job at conveying her disability, frustration and compulsion to communicate and protect her daughter regardless of her limitations. Both Liza and Big’s love for Mosey made the hair on my arms stand up and Mosey’s confusion surrounding the secrets she uncovers and her identity made my heart ache as did Big’s rehabilitation efforts with Liza.
The prose in this novel is brilliant. I loved reading each word and was amazed at how Jackson portrayed their characters so effortlessly and impeccably through their view of the world. Big was sharp, witty and wry, full of love, tenderness, compassion and wisdom. Liza was frustrated and tortured and stuck mainly in her mind of tortured memories and failed attempts to communicate while Mosey was a typical teenager, sarcastic, sullen, frustrated and annoyed with all adults in her world yet desperate to cling to them at the same time. These characters had some of the most fantastic and amusing observations I have ever read and this was in addition to the sparkling dialogue that snaps, crackles and pops between the women. Even the minor characters are well portrayed, essential to the story and won’t be easily forgotten.
At times amusing, but mostly a compelling, gritty, and heart wrenching portrayal, A Grown Up Kind Of Pretty kept me on the edge of my seat.  Every time I thought I had it figured out, Jackson threw in another twist and I downed this novel in two days. 
I can’t wait to explore more from Joshilyn Jackson. Make this your next book club pick. You won’t be disappointed. 

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for our review copy!

Follow Joshilyn Jackson here:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Toddlers Gone Wild by Rebecca Eckler

4 Star

Rebecca Eckler tackles the madness that comes with raising a boddler (half-toddler, half-baby). As any parent of a boddler knows, these are strange days indeed. Gone is the time when your child would listen when you said, “no,” and wear whatever adorable little outfit you chose. Nope. These days, the little darlings are likely to meet attempts at discipline with a steely, “I hate you,” and wardrobe choice can lead to a complete mental breakdown (on both sides).

Kathryn - 4 Star

I enjoyed this series of essays much more than the previous novel Wiped! and if you felt a little underwhelmed with the last one then give Toddlers Gone Wile: Rants from a Mommy Brain a try because it is definitely worth a giggle.
I’m not sure if toddlers are just funnier than babies or if Eckler is just wonderful at writing short essays but either way I related to this book completely.  I have a toddler and a baby at the moment so I have to say that toddlers really do come with a whole new set of challenges, no longer is it just you and a baffling baby but you’ve now got a completely self-obsessed toddler and you’re being forced to interact with other parents in a whole new way.
Eckler seemed much more in tune with Rowan now that she’s a bit bigger, there seemed to be more relationship between mother and daughter and therefore more silly stories and musings to draw out Eckler’s hilarious wit. She made me laugh and I stayed up too late reading essay after essay several nights running. I have also now been warned about a few things my kid is likely to do at some point and I’m now on the watch for some parents out there who are about to make my life difficult!
It’s refreshing to read something you can relate to and I was happy to be redirected again to enjoying my three year old for what she is- a little person sent to try my patience and fill me with wonder and joy all at the same time.

Connect with Rebecca Eckler:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blue Straggler by Kathy Lynn Harris

3 Star
A blue straggler is a star that has an anomalous blue color and appears to be disconnected from those stars that surround it. But this is not a story about astronomy.

Bailey Miller is “disconnected” from the cluster of her rural south Texas family. She has never quite fit in and now in her early 30s, she finds herself struggling with inner turmoil and a series of bad choices in her life.

Bailey’s drinking too much (even for a member of her family), has a penchant to eat spoonfuls of Cool Whip, works in a job that bores her beyond description and can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes for milk to expire in her fridge. Even with the help of her two outspoken friends, Texas gal Idamarie and her quirky college pal Rudy, she’s having a hard time.

So she packs up her Honda and heads out of Texas in search of herself and answers to secrets from her great-grandmother’s past. The novel takes readers on a journey from San Antonio, Texas, to a small mountain town in Colorado and back again, as Bailey uncovers not only the secrets of her great-grandmother’s life, but also some painful secrets of her own. All while finding love along the way.

Kaley - 3 Star

Blue Straggler by Kathy Lynn Harris was a novel that I struggled with initially but its conclusion, which I was quite happy with, helped me enjoy the book a little more.

My first impression of Bailey? She is totally screwed up. I found myself desperately hoping that she would sort herself out because I really would not have enjoyed the novel otherwise.  Happily, she had a moment or two of clarity and really began to work on herself and all ended well. At least, I thought it ended well – many others may find that they wanted another ending. Personally, I think Harris made the right choice for Bailey in the end and I was content with how her story ended up.

Bailey is trying to make some sense of her life and her journey of self discovery had her travel from Texas to Colorado. While I cannot understand exactly why she needed to go to Colorado (it was quite the personal reason, I thought, being drawn to an area where a little discussed ancestor ran away to), I knew it was something she needed to do. Everyone else in her life seemed to think it was completely ridiculous but I could tell that she just had to do it. I think part of that may be because the book was written in the first person. I was privy to all of Bailey’s thoughts and I think that helped me better understand her motivation.

There was just something about Blue Straggler that didn’t quite sit well with me which is why I only gave it three stars. Perhaps it was the fact that Bailey was quite the dysfunctional character, even though I ended up feeling drawn to her by the end of the novel.  Who knows. I have to say that there is something to admire about her and that helped me enjoy the book a little more. She was unhappy with her life so she decided to pick up and go find what she thinks she’s missing. It turns out she finds an awful lot – a man, a small town with all the charm that comes with it, and, most importantly, herself. 

Thank you to 30 Day Books for our review copy!

Connect with Kathy Lynn Harris:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Promise of Safekeeping by Lisa Dale

4.5 Star

Nine years ago, Lauren Matthews prosecuted the case of a lifetime. But her error in judgment sent an innocent man to prison for a long time. Now Arlen Fieldstone has finally been released, and Lauren has only one thing on her mind: asking forgiveness. How can she make up for nine years of his life? 

To get to Arlen, Lauren must first get through Arlen's best friend, Will Farris. Will hasn't forgotten Lauren from those days, and he hasn't forgiven her for destroying his best friend's life. He is Arlen's keeper, protecting him from suspicious neighbors as well as from Lauren. 

In the steaming summer streets of Richmond, Virginia, three people's lives collide. Lauren needs forgiveness. Arlen needs hope. And Will? He needs something too, something that no one can know-especially not Lauren...

Lydia - 4.5 Star
I really enjoyed A Promise of Safekeeping which explores wrongful incarceration, the effects on all involved and who is to blame. Is anyone? Everyone? Just one person? Or the system? The prosecution?  A weak defense?  The jury?  And what about personal guilt involved? Everyone has a different opinion A Promise of Safekeeping, including the wrongfully accused, his loved ones, and especially the woman responsible for his imprisonment.
Lauren’s guilt sets the novel in motion with her quest to apologize to Arlen whose wrongful incarceration made her career. The short time she intends to take off work to apologize becomes a much longer affair as Arlen refuses to see her, and the longer he avoids her, the more she avoids work. She finds herself spending time with Arlen’s best friend Will trying to gain favour with the man who watched hatefully as Lauren put Arlen behind bars and who took him in years later after his release. The longer she stays the more she begins to question everything including her unexpected attraction to Will.
Lauren’s struggles felt real and I immediately related to her character who was just trying to do what she felt was right, regardless of what everyone else wanted her to do. The connection between Lauren and Will was palpable and unavoidable and their hesitation understanding. How Will’s initial misjudgment of Lauren’s character gradually crumbles held my attention as did Lauren’s ability to read people’s faces and body language. How would having that ability have impacted my life if I had it?  Would I have been just as bamboozled in love by untruths? This novel inspires some interesting questions.
Arlen’s release into the world after incarceration for nine years was fascinating. His inability to step outside was understandable and his initial observations were eye opening. I thought often to how many things have changed in the last nine years that one would be completely ignorant of and how each decade there are enormous changes that without exposure to would lead to complete incomprehension.
The subtleties to this novel were outstanding. For the most part we mostly bob along at a gentle pace like down a meandering stream, but its one that you know could turn into a ranging river at any time.  The undercurrent of danger lurked throughout the entire novel and it was so subtle, but had enough effect to keep me on the edge of my seat wondering if anything would happen to Lauren, whether Arlen would turn violent or what explosions would occur should Lauren and Arlen ever meet again.
Unfortunately the quick ending though left me surprised and a little confused, specifically regarding the last few pages. After all the emotion and suspense I wanted more from the ending and ultimately came away a little disappointed. 

I will definitely read more from Lisa Dale!

Thank you to Penguin USA, Berkley Trade for our review copy!

Connect with Lisa Dale:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany

3.5 Star
When Eden was ten years old she found her father, David, bleeding out on the bathroom floor. The suicide attempt led to her parents’ divorce, and David all but vanished from Eden’s life. Since childhood, she has heard from him only rarely, just enough to know he’s been living on the streets and struggling with mental illness. But lately, there has been no word at all.

Now in her thirties, Eden decides to go look for her father, so she can forgive him at last, and finally move forward. When her search uncovers other painful truths—not only the secrets her mother has kept from her, but also the agonizing question of whether David, after all these years, even wants to be found—Eden is forced to decide just how far she’ll go in the name of love. 

Kaley - 3.5 Star

I have to admit that I’m not usually one to read novels with a heavier plot. I’m more drawn to the characters that have issues with too many shoes or too many men than those that are battling personal demons. I try to step outside my comfort zone and read something that is a little bit more serious so I was glad to have the chance to read Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany. While this novel drew me into Eden’s life and her story, in the end I don’t think it was quite for me.

This novel was written in multiple perspectives – Eden in present day, Eden as a child in 1989, and David starting in 1989. At first I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that. I thought having Eden’s current perspective was enough and it was sometimes a pain to flip back and forth. Eventually, though, I began to appreciate why Hatvany was giving us the three viewpoints. While we can try to understand Eden’s motives as an adult, being privy to her thoughts as a child really showcase how much her father’s problems affected her. Also, without David’s point of view it would have been too easy to blame him for everything and think that he should have tried harder to get better. Because I got to read his thoughts as well, I could see just how hard he did try and how much of a stranglehold his mental illness had on him. In the end I was really glad Hatvany decided to write the novel from the viewpoints of both Eden and David.

Eden was an interesting character. She thinks she has it all together but she doesn’t fully realize how much her father’s illness has affected her. She was abandoned by someone she trusted with her life and that cut a lot deeper than she wanted to believe. With the help of a strong mother, a wonderful stepfather and half brother, an amazing best friend, and a great guy, Eden is able to overcome her issues and start to heal. That may sound typical and not very exciting but Hatvany manages to write Eden and David’s story in a way that you want to keep turning the pages to see how it will all unfold.

I haven’t read any of Jodi Picoult’s books myself but I feel I know enough about her novels to say that fans of her work may enjoy Outside the Lines well. Overall, I liked the novel. Did I love it? No, but that is purely for personal taste. That being said, I plan to keep an eye of Hatvany and see what she comes up with next.

Thank you to Atria Books - Simon and Schuster for our review copy!

Connect with Amy Hatvany:

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

2 Star
From the civil rights struggle in the United States to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are momentous stories everywhere. But only some survive to become history.

Lamont Williams is a black man from the Bronx trying to return to a normal life after serving a six-year prison term for a crime for which he was wrongly convicted. Historian Adam Zignelik is an untenured Columbia professor whose career and long-term relationship are falling apart. When Lamont Williams strikes up an unlikely friendship with a patient at the hospital where he works as a janitor, he learns about the Sonderkommando--prisoners forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria of the Nazi extermination camps. Meanwhile, Adam pursues a promising research topic suggested by a World War II veteran, a topic that might just save him professionally and even personally. When the lives of these two men intersect, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen.

Sabrina-Kate - 2 Star

I have to say that I was ultimately disappointed in The Street Sweeper. I started out by loving it as it opened with an amazingly descriptive scene set in Harlem. Since I love New York and recently stayed in Harlem, it really appealed to me. But unfortunately, that quickly changed.

I stayed enraptured with the story of Lamont Williams as he seemed like a very realistic character, struggling through life and just trying to get by while looking for his long lost daughter. He seemed like a very relatable character but not much of the book seemed devoted to him or the characters related to him. 

The main focus was on Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor. While I could sympathize with his emotional side, though it was very downplayed, I did not appreciated how much detail the author provided on his psyche. At times his ex girlfriend would "whisper" at him - which was really just him talking in his head but was written in a confusing way.

The novel also went into tangents and far too much detail on historical aspects, which might be interesting to some, but ultimately lost me. The Street Sweeper was heavy in thoughts and memories rather than plot, especially regarding the details of the Holocaust. I felt it too personal a topic was being elaborated on at times, almost lecturing, especially with the repetitive nature of some of the themes, and combined with the narrative instead of action it seemed to lose me.

Unfortunately what could have been an intriguing tale of two New Yorkers ended up being a disappointment for me.

Thank you to DoubleDay Canada for our review copy!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Storm in a Teacup by Lucy Cavendish

3.5 Star 

Another hilarious chronicle about not-so-super-mom Samantha Smythe and her naughty children on a "family adventure"—the British beach holiday. With six demanding mouths to feed in her household Samantha Smythe doesn't even have time for a bath. Can all their problems be solved with some sea air at Beachcomber Bay?

Kathryn - 3.5 Star 

I am dreading saying it but this last novel in the series about Samantha Smythe wasn’t as fabulous for me as the first two. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy A Storm in a Teacup but I felt a bit let down when I realised we were going to be pursuing more of a plot in this story and less being entertained by Samantha’s quirky comments about life and her brood of children.
I know that eventually Cavendish was going to have to move the plot along but I lost poor Samantha in A Storm in a Teacup.  She was thoroughly engulfed by her mission to restore not only her mother-in-law’s garden in Devon but also to try and save the local historical home.  I thought that the children and their problems took a little bit of a backseat to the restoration mission and I missed the focused relations between mother and children.  I also missed her husband John who was absent for most of the novel too - one of the things I’d loved about the prequels was the reality of being a mother while also trying to be a wife.  John and Samantha were very real to me and this didn’t come across in the third installment as much, I was getting a bit worried actually but it seemed to work out in the end!
I did like the introduction of Jamie’s cross-dressing habit as well as Edward becoming a teenager and while I think it was absolutely necessary to introduce some new challenges I felt like they were given huge importance and then dropped and picked up again between the home saving plans.  I also wished we’d been given more time with Baby Sparkle as she’d been such a focus of the last novel.
Having said all this and done my complaining I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the book - I wanted to know more about the family and I got it.  I still love all the characters created by Cavendish and would leap on another installment like a life boat in a flood!

Connect with Lucy Cavendish:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Walter's Muse by Jean Davies Okimoto

2.5 Star

It’s the first summer of her retirement and librarian Maggie Lewis is relishing the unfolding of sweet summer days on Vashon Island: walking on the beach, reading the classics, and kayaking. But in June when a sudden storm hits the island, Maggie’s summer becomes about as peaceful as navigating whitewater. Not only does her wealthy sister arrive uninvited with a startling announcement; but Maggie finds herself entangled with her new Baker’s Beach neighbor, Walter Hathaway. A famous children’s author and recovering alcoholic, Walter has a history with Maggie they would each like to forget.

Lydia - 2.5 Star

I’m not sure I was the right demographic to read Walter's Muse. It’s always so difficult when I don’t enjoy a book to write a negative review, but sadly, this one didn’t capture me as much as I’d hoped. Walter’s Muse provided some thought provoking insights and reflections on retiring and having watched my parents go through this life change recently, it interested me to a point, but overall I couldn’t really connect with this one.
A romantic at heart, I enjoyed seeing love blooming at any age – and the worries that go with it, as well as the possibility that change and happiness are never out of reach if you’re willing to let it in. I loved Martha Jane’s sense of curiosity and zest for life even in her 90’s.  All in all though, I couldn’t really connect to any of the characters and there wasn’t enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, even though there are plenty of positive reviews for this novel.

I felt Walter’s Muse could have benefited from a few more hours in the editing room. There was repetition to be smoothed over, including Maggie using her librarian’s voice multiple times, descriptions of her sister, Mary Jane’s memory issues being reiterated many times over as well as Maggie having to learn about technology as a librarian. Even worse were a couple of flips between the past tense to the present which completely threw me. I also found the novel clich├ęd at times, especially some of the novel writing aspects, the metaphors, and even the characters.

There were also some things didn’t necessarily jive for me such as how Maggie forgot her sister’s husband’s name when she was characterized as such a people pleaser and how Mary Jane remembered each time she was forgetting something when in many of my experiences with the elderly whose memories are in decline, I’ve found they tend not to always recall that they’ve forgotten something.
Walter’s Muse also needed many more scenes with people for me rather than how Maggie wandered around alone most of the time (particularly the first half of the novel) in her head with long paragraphs describing her every move which I started to skim. I wanted to see an actual Skype conversation with her granddaughter which I think it could have spoken volumes about Maggie’s personality, instead of always being told how she felt about her granddaughter. Also maybe some scenes or phone calls with her daughter? They seemed to be on good terms according to Maggie’s internal dialogue about her. Maybe a phone call to her to complain about her sister’s impending arrival could have helped show her angst more than relaying it in thoughts.
Overall, Walter’s Muse picked up about half way through and I was grateful there were more scenes from that point on to grab on to. If you’re a romantic, enjoy novels are about an older generation and bob along gently and can overlook a few editing glitches, you should enjoy this one.

Connect with Jean Davies Okimoto:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...