Sunday, October 28, 2012

White Wedding by Milly Johnson

3.5 Star

It's the day they've always dreamed about. But will it turn out to be a nightmare …?


Bel is in the midst of planning her perfect wedding when disaster strikes and everything she thought she knew is turned on its head. Can she hold it all together and, with the help of her friends, and a mysterious man she meets unexpectedly, turn disaster into triumph?


Bel's friend, ice-cream parlour owner Violet, is engaged to Glyn, who is besotted by her although Violet fell out of love with him long ago. But however trapped she feels in the relationship, she can't quite say the words, 'I don't want to marry you anymore.' Then, just when she's about to give up and resign herself to married life, she finds love in the most surprising of places. Will duty rule her heart or will she allow herself to be swept off her feet?


Max was planning a quick registry office do with her fiancé Stuart until she sees a TV programme about traveller brides and becomes determined to have the most extravagantly glitzy wedding ever. But in all the excitement has she lost sight of what's really important? Does she want the wedding more than she wants the groom?


And as all three friends find the dress of their dreams at the White Wedding bridal shop, its owner, the lovely Freya, guarantees that her gowns will bring them happiness - though maybe not quite in the way they expected …


Lydia - 3.5 Star

Milly Johnson has definitely earned her best selling author title. Her novels are fun, feel-good, giggle worthy, romantic and fairy tale-like and White Wedding is no exception. The three women featured in this novel are about to go on an adventure in wedding land and they may not end up exactly where they predict they'll go and I enjoyed reading about their adventure.

I love the characters Milly Johnson creates. They're warm, lovely and you can't help but root for them to get what they want and deserve in life. The friendships she portrays in her novels and the relationships between women always leaves me with the warm and fuzzies and want to curl up next to them on the couch with a glass of wine or a bag of crisps.

The last 50 pages of White Wedding had me flipping frantically and was the most fun I had during the novel and there were many bits revealed that I was not expecting. Unfortunately throughout the rest of the novel, I found it a little slow at times, probably because it was pretty predictable so I knew what was going to happen most of the time and found myself wondering how long a section would take before things was revealed. 

As someone who has just began planning a wedding, I actually found this novel a bit depressing and can't fathom what someone reading with doubts might feel - spurred into action I would hope and maybe this was Johnson's intention. So maybe this hindered my opinion somewhat as I read with trepidation much of the time.

Overall if you're looking for a light, easy to read novel, pick this one up. I tend to prefer hard hitting novels these days, so this is probably the reason I'm not rating this one as high as I could. I think Johnson will forever chase the first, and favourite, novel I read of hers, A Spring Affair, which will remain one of my favourite British Chick Lit novels. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

Connect with Milly Johnson here:
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary


Please welcome Catherine McKenzie, author of three novels - Spin, Arranged and Forgotten - to review one of her favourite recent reads, A Simple thing by Kathleen McCleary.

But first, the synopsis of A Simple Thing:

When Susannah Delaney discovers her young son is being bullied and her adolescent daughter is spinning out of control, she moves them to remote, rustic Sounder Island to live for a year. A simple island existence—with no computers or electricity and only a one-room schoolhouse—is just what her over scheduled East Coast kids need to learn what's really important in life. But the move threatens her marriage to the man she's loved since childhood, and her very sense of self.

For Betty Pavalak, who moved to Sounder to save her own troubled marriage, the island has been a haven for fifty years. But Betty also knows the guilt of living with choices made long ago and actions that cannot be undone. The unlikely friendship between Susannah and Betty ignites a journey of self-discovery for both women and brings them both home to what they love most. A Simple Thing moves beyond friendship, children, and marriages to look deeply into what it means to love and forgive—yourself. 

Catherine McKenzie - Guest Review

This novel tells two interweaving storylines: that of a mother—Susannah—who jettisons her home and husband propelled by the desperate need to protect her children from (perceived) harm, and that of a woman nearing the end of her life—Betty—who lives on the remote island Susannah chooses to retreat to.

Both of these women have experienced tragedy and loss, and they are both imprisoned by their pasts, literally and figuratively. Susannah channels her fears and anxieties into her children—the helicopter parent of helicopter parents. When her daughter, Katie, makes a few bad decisions (getting drunk, skipping school), Susannah panics. Where most parents might just impose stricter rules, Susannah moves her family to a remote island on the Pacific Northeast named Sounder, hoping a simpler life will keep her children safe.

Betty, meanwhile, has lived on Sounder for most of her adult life. Married to a philandering husband who wandered in and out of her life, Betty first moved to Sounder in an attempt to save her marriage and ended up staying because she fell in love with the place and the people she found there. But though she finds independence and love, she’s a captive of her previous bad choices and, ultimately, as unable to divorce herself from them as Susannah.

McCleary writes with strength and wit and avoids taking the plot in the obvious direction. She makes us think about how far someone will, and should, go to protect the ones they love and, ultimately, themselves.

Connect with Kathleen McCleary here:
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Thank you Catherine!

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, where she now practices law. An avid runner and skier, she has also taught part-time at the McGill Faculty of Law.

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Review




The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher

5 Star

Olivia Kaspen is a sharp tongued manipulator used to always getting what she wants. With just one exception-Caleb Drake, the one she foolishly let slip away. After a chance encounter brings Caleb back into her life, Olivia finds herself wanting a second chance with her first love, and asking herself how far she is willing to go to get him back.  Her only problem is a red head named Leah, Caleb’s new love. Olivia must fight for what was once hers, and in the process discover that sometimes love falls short of redemption. 





Lydia - 5 Star

The Opportunist has every ingredient for a gut wrenching, scream inducing, roller coaster ride of a novel. It’s obsessive, dark, and greedy – both the novel itself, and how it makes you read. I snatched this one up any time I had a few seconds, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, how much I loved it, yet hated it, and I could feel my eyes growing narrow and shifty after every page. The Opportunist marries a psychological thriller with a love story and will keep you guessing until the very last sentence. It will make you feel every possible emotion and remain in your brain long after you flip the last page.

The sense of foreboding that Fisher created in this novel is phenomenal. From the very first page you get a sense something terrible is going to happen between these people. My mind zipped and zoomed all over the place with possibilities. The tension between Olivia and Caleb was palpable and was probably the most intense relationship I have ever read in a novel. I really didn’t expect I would be into Olivia. She’s jealous, possessive, manipulative and self destructive, and so completely unlike me that I could not relate directly in any way. But somehow I tore through pages, desperate to see what she would do next and what she had done in the past. It was like gawking at a train wreck. I think anyone can relate on some level to their love, heartbreak and being so consumed with each other as love often is. Fisher does a fabulous job at making Olivia human, creating reasons for her flaws and making her likeable to some extent, even if you can’t love her.

I can’t get over the ease at which I got sucked into Olivia’s life and how urgently I needed to flip pages to find out what would happen. The Opportunist was unlike many of the novels I read, which are, more or less, cheery and lighter. They usually do not have a protagonist that is so dark and obsessive. They do not have a leading man I can’t decide if I love or loathe. These kids hurt each other, tear their lives and hearts apart, move on and do it all over again. I hated their decisions and what they do to each other from even the smallest things. But there was a romance to them, some tender moments, and I couldn't help but root for Olivia to get over her insecurities and for Caleb to be patient with her. And then I would flip the page and think - oh, no, no, no - they need to get away from each other, now.


Somehow I predicted one of the things to occur, but I was looking for it. That didn’t stop my enjoyment in any way. There were multiple unpredictable events and almost every page surprised me with something. One thing that did surprise me was the writing. It was incredibly easy to read, held no frills and there were multiple ‘rules’ broken if you look at it from the writing ‘handbook’ but it all worked and it was still a smashing read. But then again, rules are meant to be broken right? And I thought it fit really well with Olivia’s personality, her age, her tone and her rule smashing ways.


The Opportunist is hands down one the best self-published books I have read so far and may very well make my Top 5 reads of the year.  Oh, just go out and get it already.


Thank you to myself for buying this one. All opinions are my own. 

Connect with Tarryn Fisher here:
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal

5 Star

Having a baby to save a marriage—it’s the oldest of clichés. But what if the marriage at risk is a gay one, and having a baby involves a surrogate mother? Pat Faunce is a faltering romantic, a former poetry major who now writes textbooks. A decade into his relationship with Stu, an airline pilot from a fraught Jewish family, he fears he’s losing Stu to other men—and losing himself in their “no rules” arrangement. Yearning for a baby and a deeper commitment, he pressures Stu to move from Manhattan to Cape Cod, to the cottage where Pat spent boyhood summers.

As they struggle to adjust to their new life, they enlist a surrogate: Debora, a charismatic Brazilian immigrant, married to Danny, an American home rebuilder. Gradually, Pat and Debora bond, drawn together by the logistics of getting pregnant and away from their spouses. Pat gets caught between loyalties—to Stu and his family, to Debora, to his own potent desires—and wonders: is he fit to be a father?

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Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

Probably one of the best books I have read this year, I absolutely adored The Paternity Test. I really felt like I could identify with the story in many ways despite never having been in a similar situation and probably never having to be either.

The main characters are a gay couple who are looking for a surrogate so they can become parents. It really spoke to me how the story flowed easily from their former party lifestyle to wanting to create a family together, no matter how contrived the reasons behind it may have been. The story was artfully crafted and drew me in. I was not able to put down the book and actually stayed up until about 4 am one night to finish it!

Lowenthal has an incredible talent for descriptions and his almost lyrical use of words for the mundane and not so mundane was just so enjoyable. His writing style is exactly this type of verbosity I can really sink my teeth into even though the plot itself was incredibly captivating on its own.

The story started off simple enough, but quickly became more complex - the choice alone of deciding when to begin a family, and then to start one in such a way, are somewhat overwhelming, yet Lowenthal handled immersing his reader into this world with aplomb. The story then, in a shocking, yet not quite, twist, takes us to another place. I really wasn't expecting all that happened in the book yet it all seemed to be so natural and plausible that it made me feel like it was the story of someone I knew.

I cannot recommend The Paternity Test enough. For any fans of Jodi Picoult type stories about the human condition, love and the trials we face, you will love this one!

Thank you to Terrace Books, University of Wisconsin Press for our review copy!

Connect with Micahel Lowenthal here:
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

2.5 Star

Lydia, Dean and Robyn don’t know one another. Yet. Each is facing difficult challenges. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood. Wealthy and successful, she leads a lonely and disjointed existence. Dean is a young, unemployed, single dad whose life is going nowhere. Robyn is eighteen. Gorgeous, popular and intelligent, she entered her first year of college confident of her dream to become a pediatrician. Now she’s failing her classes. Now she’s falling in love for the first time.

Lydia, Dean and Robyn live very different lives, but each of them, independently, has always felt that something was missing. What they don’t know is that a letter is about to arrive that will turn their lives upside down. It is a letter containing a secret—one that will bind them together and show them what love and family and friendship really mean. 


Lydia - 2.5 Star

The Secrets of Us by Lisa Jewell is a novel about finding where you belong. It follows three characters that lead vastly different lives but always felt a piece of the puzzle missing and when they eventually find it, they find their way to each other. Although this novel is relatively easy to read, I found myself unable to connect with the characters and unfortunately remained ambivalent throughout.

This novel started interestingly enough, back in the 70's with a woman who can't conceive and wants to try what I presume was some of the first rounds of artificial insemination. I was completely captivated at that point and wanted to see this women's journey, how she's deceiving her husband and read about the process back when it first began. But we're kicked to the present day and never see the story from this woman's perspective again, which confused me as it wasn't even a prologue, but a section based on her name so I expected to flip back to her at some point.  I also really enjoyed that this novel provides something different to read about, rather than the same old story.

I found myself unable to connect to any of the three main characters. Initially, I found it difficult to keep track of who was who with the alternating narrative, and then once I had that sorted, I still couldn't find much to grab hold of. They were all very lonely people and spent a lot of time up in their heads, which is normal for many, but I've found myself bored lately with books like this. I want action instead of characters running around with their thoughts. That's not to say there wasn't any interaction. There was, but I found it lacking somehow. Robyn was by far my favourite - possibly because she was the warmest, most down to earth, character - or maybe because she had the most positive attitude and support group, so she had many people to interact with - or maybe because I was most intrigued by her predicament and it made me wonder about others in the same situation.

It wasn't that Jewels' writing is bad - quite the opposite. It was easy enough to read, but I just kept finding myself drifting many times, unable to focus on the book. There were a few things that kept me interested with each character, probably why I kept reading, but over all I didn't find it the most enjoyable read. Many others loved this one though, so maybe it's just my personal preference about action packed novels. Maybe I have novel attention span disorder. I would definitely try another Lisa Jewel novel though, as she has published many!


Thank you to Simon and Schuster for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

Connect with Lisa Jewell here:

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Dancing Naked in Dixie by Lauren Clark

5 Star

Julia Sullivan lives life in fast-forward. As a travel writer, she jet sets to Europe, South America, and the Caribbean with barely a moment to blink or sleep. But this perpetual motion—and her own scattered personality—catches up with her. When she stops in New York to pick up her next assignment, Julia discovers she’s on the verge of being fired.

With a stern warning, and unemployment looming, Julia is offered one last chance to rescue her career. She embarks on a journey to the ‘Heart of Dixie’—Eufaula, Alabama—home to magnificent mansions, sweet tea, and the annual Pilgrimage. During this spring tour of historic homes, visitors flock to the city and enjoy turn of the century architecture, delightful meals, and Southern hospitality. 

Despite a series of mishaps, a trip to the ER, and one major wardrobe disaster, Julia soon realizes she’s fallen in love with Eufaula and her charming host, Shug Jordan. But when a real estate developer announces plans to turn the city into a tourist spot, Julia’s thrown off-balance once again. How could this happen? Is there a connection between Shug and the developer? And can Julia’s story help save Eufaula and the annual Pilgrimage?


Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

I loved this book. I think it's one of the books that I've read the most quickly recently. Everywhere I would go, I would bring Dancing Naked in Dixie with me, in hope that I would have a moment or two to read another chapter. Or even attempt to read another few lines. Yes, it was that engrossing!

Lauren's writing is very solid and she makes her characters realistic and approachable. They have flaws and hopes. They have fears and triumphs. Truly they are characters that can be identified with in big ways. From the humorous situations to the perpetual late arrivals of Julia, every situation is deftly composed so that you feel that you were part of it.

The story flowed very well and even though I'm not sure if the plot was something that would actually happen, she made me believe that it could and did. The story had enough complexity that it kept me on my toes and it even left me hoping for more. I didn't feel like anything was left out, rather I hope to just hear what the characters get up to next. Perhaps a sequel is upcoming?

I have always enjoyed Clark's writing since I discovered her previously. She is a master at descriptive writing and even though I have never been to the south, I feel like I have by the way she makes it come alive. She is truly an author who is going places - both of her books are immensely enjoyable and I recommend them to all.

Dancing Naked in Dixie is definitely 5 star chick lit.

Thank you to Lauren Clark for our review copy! All opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Home Front by Kristin Hannah


Please welcome Carol Mason, author of three novels - The Secrets of Married Women, Send Me A Lover, and The Love Market - to review one of her favourite recent reads, Home Front by Kristin Hannah.

First, the synopsis of Home Front...

All marriages have a breaking point. All families have wounds. All wars have a cost. . . .

Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life---children, careers, bills, chores---even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own---for everything that matters to his family.



Guest Review by Carol Mason

If I’m going to be honest, I doubted that Home Front by Kristin Hannah would be my kind of read. Did I really want to know about a female Black Hawk pilot who is deployed to Iraq? In school I could barely use a hockey stick. Serious trauma for me is Estee Lauder discontinuing my lipstick shade. While I might be open-minded when it comes to books, I at least like to read about women who are from my same tribe. 

And yet very quickly I recognized familiar ground – issues and dilemmas that have featured in my own novels. Married for 12 years, Jolene and Michael’s relationship has gone stale. Her workaholic lawyer husband forgets her birthday, barely knows his two daughters, and, worse still, has never taken his wife’s career seriously. Then he tells her he doesn’t love her anymore. Two days later, she learns she’s being deployed to Iraq. 

Now neither Jolene and Michael can shirk their duties – hers, to her country, and his, to caring for his children, the first two casualties of this story. Ironically, Michael tells his wife, “I’m scared. I don’t know if I can handle it’. As she writes the letters she must write to her family – the ones they will read if she never comes home - and prepares to leave her household in as much order as she possibly can to make things easier for Michael, we see that Jolene is a hero before she even goes into combat. Michael is feeling bitter, abandoned and emasculated. Michael doesn’t support the war, but he does support the warriors – yet he can’t include his wife among them. 

As Michael bumbles through his new role as working husband and Mr. Mom, Jolene experiences that leaving her family is the hardest part of going to war. Only when Michael takes on the defence of a young soldier accused of murdering his wife does he gain an understanding of PTSD and what Jolene might actually be going through – as opposed to the protective “lies” she has told them about what her role is over there. And then he is haunted by his own regrets. 

It’s at this point in the story that I started to see there are two heroes in this novel. Imperfect, traditional Michael, forced out of his comfort zone, suddenly discovers a new side to himself. Watching him start to excel as a parent, and to torment himself for how cavalier he once was about their life, and their love, I realized why the book is called Home Front. 

Desperate for her to know how much she means to him, he writes her a letter. But will she receive it in time, before her life is about to change in the cruelest way possible? And when she comes home utterly broken, is there any way back for them?

This novel tore my heart to pieces. It gave me an eerily real taste of what it would be like to watch someone I love go to war, and a whole other way of thinking about what honor truly is. As an achievement by a novelist, well, if anyone thinks they could have handled this topic better, let them stand up and be counted. 

Connect with Kristin Hannah here:
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Thank you Carol!


Carol Mason is the author of The Secrets of Married Women, Send Me A Lover, and The Love Market. Her books are translated into nine languages, available in thirteen countries, and are bestsellers in Canada, where she now lives. Born and raised in Northern England, Carol calls herself "a writer of real life, whose characters are as intimately-known and complex as our quirky and most longstanding best friends." Her books were recently re-released for Kindle at $3.99. Visit  www.carolmasonbooks.com to learn more.


 
Check out our reviews of Carol's novels:


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The Secret of Married Women by Carol Mason

5 Star

`Affairs are easier to have than you`d think.`

Jill and Rob are happily married - until they discover that Rob is infertile. It isn`t the end of the world for Jill. She`s just happy to have a trustworthy husband who loves her deeply and presses all the right buttons in the bedroom. But Rob`s gone off sex and refuses to discuss it. In fact all communication between them has come to an infuriating halt. And Jill just yearns for a bit of fun.

It wouldn`t be so bad if one of her best friends wasn`t having the best sex of her entire life `albeit behind her husband`s back` while her other friend has a stunning husband she`s still in lust with.

But are things ever what they seem? How well do we ever know our husbands, our best friends, or even ourselves?

Jill is about to find out when she faces infertility, infidelity and the truth head on... 


Lydia - 5 Star

The Secrets of Married Women is an absorbing read and wasn't anywhere near as frothy and fluffy as I might have believed it to be from the cover and description. Instead, I discovered a thoughtful novel about love, marriage and friendship that covers a topic we don't often see in chick lit, which is always a refreshing change. Often we see infidelity from the women's perspective when she is the wronged party. The Secrets of Married Women explores the topic of women led astray.

This novel is full of flawed, real characters.  The main character, Jill, whose marriage we witness as issues fester and begin to splinter and erode their relationship, is a wonderful character to root for. I wanted to shake Jill and shove Rob in her face so she could see how wonderful he is, yet I could completely emphasize with how lonely and bereft she feels once he emotionally vacates. I don't condone cheating, and I was slightly surprised that their issue hadn't been going on for longer, but this novel provides multiple angles on the subject of infidelity. You can compare women and men and draw your own conclusions - who ends up miserable, who is redeemed, who is released and why.  I think Mason does a fabulous job at making you think with this novel.

The Secrets of Married Women isn't just about marriage and infidelity. It's also about friendship. I loved how different the three characters are and I enjoyed following their stories. The relationship between the three women is intriguing as they didn't always confide their deepest secrets to one another, and I could completely relate to this. Some women tell each other everything, which we have one character do, and others keep quiet until there's an explosion or others confide only to some friends as opposed to others and I found it intriguing and characteristic of even some of my own relationships.

Mason's depiction of marriage in The Secrets of Married Women is fascinating to me, as I found her other novel, The Love Market. She hits it on the nose every time and manages to write about marriage without the fluffy coating some novels manage to layer on.  She stips away the layers and portrays it in all it's greatness and listlessness. Her portrayal of how wonderful and intoxicating it can be, juxtaposed at how lonely and aggravating it can be is fabulous. Marriage is hard, and this novel tells it like it is for these characters. There is no sugar coating, no reality dodging and I loved that. The fact that Rob isn't a terrible person, but loving, and kind with one large exception that becomes a growing problem in their marriage makes what happens even harder to swallow. I love novels that hit hard with reality, and The Secrets of Married Women definitely delivers.

There were definitely a few surprises in The Secrets of Married Women, which I loved along with Jill, whose character I really enjoyed . If you're looking for a deeper novel, exploring marriage, pick up one of Mason's novels today. 
Thank you to Carol Mason for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

Connect with Carol here:
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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

5 Star

Gold is the story of two women, Zoe and Kate, world-class cyclists who have been friends and rivals since their first day of elite training years ago. They have loved, fought, betrayed, forgiven, lost, consoled, triumphed, and grown up together. Now, on the eve of London 2012, their last Olympics, the two must compete for the one remaining spot on their team. In doing so, the women will be tested to their physical, mental and emotional limits. They will confront each other and their own mortality, and be asked to decide: What will you sacrifice for the people you love?



Kaley - 5 Star

I was pretty obsessed with the Olympics this year. I had the TV on from when I got home from work until I went to bed and I was constantly checking Twitter during to see the results of competitions. I was all about London 2012 and was kind of sad when it was all over. With Chris Cleave’s novel Gold, I was able to revisit the excitement of the Games through the eyes of two athletes.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with this novel. I knew it was about cycling and the Olympics but that was the extent of my knowledge. The book turned out to be about so much more than the sport. Sure, the majority of the action took place at various velodromes and events but that’s because racing was the most important thing in Kate and Zoe’s life. Besides, when you’re training for the Olympics you’re obviously going to spend a lot of time racing and training. I felt like the races helped make all of the other events feel more action packed and more like they were racing against time. There’s a particular part of the book almost at the end where this really comes through. The story cuts between an actual cycling race and…something else that I won’t tell you because I don’t want to give anything away. The point is that it’s written so you’re almost constantly on edge. Who will win? What will happen? It’s almost as if the adrenaline felt by Kate and Zoe, in particular, is coming right through the pages.

The thing I loved most about this novel was that there were so many secrets cleverly hidden in the lives of all the characters. Not just Kate and Zoe, but with Jack and Tom as well. I like to think that I’m pretty smart and there have been more than one occasion where I have figured out plot twists to books, TV shows, or movies. I didn’t find that to be the case with Gold. I kept thinking about what might happen and while I got close a few times, I was never absolutely correct. It would have been frustrating to have all these secrets that I knew were just waiting to come out if I didn’t know that Cleave would reveal them when they were meant to be revealed.

I was much more emotionally involved in Gold than I thought I would be and I loved that. I think Chris Cleave has written a fabulous novel and I highly recommend it. 

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

Connect with Chris Cleave here:
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