Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Walk In The Park- Jill Mansell

4 Star

It's been a while, but Lara Carson's back in Bath and lives are set to change as a result. Because Lara left her family and boyfriend Flynn eighteen years ago without a word to anyone. Why has no one heard from her since?
Her childhood best friend Evie is thrilled Lara's back and able to share her happiness. Evie's about to walk down the aisle with her dream man, Joel. Or so she thinks...

Then there's Flynn Erskine, even more attractive now and stunned to see Lara again. The spark between them is as strong as ever, but how's Flynn going to react when he discovers the secret she's been keeping from him?

Oh yes, there's a lot of catching up to be done... 

Kathryn - 4 Star

I loved this story and read it in a couple of evenings- in the past I’ve sometimes found Mansell’s novels entertaining but not always unique but I think this one captured a new story line while still keeping the same tone that Mansell is popular for. 

There are some great characters in A Walk In The Park including our main lovely lady Lara who is strong and funny and generally fabulous. Her upbringing was awful but she’s so strong willed and determined that I feel she was justified in every decision that she made in her life up to this point.  She does get a bit stubborn though and that just adds to her charm and I absolutely loved her relationship with her aunt and her daughter- both equally strong minded and stubborn women!  Their matter-of-fact and get-on-with-it attitude is great- gave me a kick start on a few projects I had hanging around the house and am now feeling very pleased with myself!

Mansell does throw a couple of twists into this story that I wasn’t expecting and I was pleasantly surprised by them.  Her supporting characters also were funny and felt fresh and original- I was most fond of the jeweller she ends up working for in Bath because he was just the right amount of nosy.

I own all of Jill Mansell’s novels and though I’ve had a little disappointment in the past I feel that all in all I enjoyed A Walk in the Park immensely- looks like Mansell has come back to give us more of what we like- with a little more oomph too!

Thank you to Sourcebooks for our review copy!

Connect with Jill Mansell:

Invisible by Carla Buckley

5 Star

Growing up, Dana Carlson and her older sister, Julie, are inseparable—Dana the impulsive one, Julie calmer and more nurturing. But then a devastating secret compels Dana to flee from home, not to see or speak to her sister for sixteen years.

When she receives the news that Julie is seriously ill, Dana knows that she must return to their hometown of Black Bear, Minnesota, to try and save her sister. Yet she arrives too late, only to discover that Black Bear has changed, and so have the people in it.

Julie has left behind a shattered teenage daughter, Peyton, and a mystery—what killed Julie may be killing others, too. Why is no one talking about it? Dana struggles to uncover the truth, but no one wants to hear it, including Peyton, who can’t forgive her aunt’s years-long absence. Dana had left to protect her own secrets, but Black Bear has a secret of its own—one that could tear apart Dana’s life, her family, and the whole town.

Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

This book was quite captivating despite, and perhaps because, the uncomfortable way it made me feel. A lot of the situations surrounding one of the main characters are quite traumatic yet I feel like that is part of the strength of incredible writing of this book. It was entirely engrossing from very early on in the book, so much so that I hated it have to put it down.

Part of the great appeal was the subtext of so many different things happening yet so many details being just alluded to. It made me feel like I wanted to rush on to find out exactly what the truth behind them all actually was. It reminded me that we cannot know everything about circumstances and how it is easy to judge despite that fact, which is something that kept coming up in the book.

The characters were very strongly described and developed, even characters that were no longer alive. It made the story come alive because you got to know them in very intimate and interesting ways, almost getting inside of their heads.

I also quite enjoy books where chapters alternate between different characters as this one did since I feel it gives a much more complete and better perspective on the story within. After all, there are at least two sides to every story, right? The interesting part about this was that the characters were quite different in age and had had very different and completely isolated experiences that this book brought together, so it was not always the same story repeated in a different voice but a different story complementing the other voice's.

I truly enjoyed this book and really don't want to say much more about what happened in it as I am too afraid of giving something essential away. Suffice to say, I really recommend it, especially if you like a book that is realistic, intriguing and also a bit of a mystery.

Thank you to Random House for our review copy! All opinons are our own.

Connect with Carla Buckley here:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

5 Star

The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air in this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory's ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.

A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory's legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory. Through George's perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya. But it is through Ruth's eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home.

Drawing on years of research, this powerful and beautifully written novel is a timeless story of desire, redemption, and the lengths we are willing to go for honour, glory, and love.

Lydia - 5 Star

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The prose was lyrical and poignant, the characters perfectly troubled and flawed and and the setting portrayal had me shivering and wincing at every detail. Based on true events, Above all Things had me mesmerized throughout, both at how someone would go to the lengths George Mallory went to to climb Mount Everest, and the woman left behind to wonder whether he would ever return.

My heart ached during this novel. We know the outcome well in advance, but as I read I couldn't help but hold out hope. I commiserated alongside Ruth while she floated like a ghost through her life wondering whether her husband would ever return and vacillitating between whether she was right have let him go to his mountain, or whether she should have attempted to forbid his travels and smother his spirit.

The portrayal of George and Ruth's relationship was marvelous, from their tender moments to the scenes where they tear each other apart. Told via flashbacks (which a few times lost me with the bouncing around, although I was sick much of the time I read this so it might have been my ill-ladened brain that couldn't keep up), we are treated to an intense account of their marriage as imagined by the author. The letters between the couple are now public record and based on these, Rideout crafted an incredibly real relationship full of love, loss, regret, torment and tenderness. 

I was constantly confounded by George's desire for extreme behaviour and picked up this novel with trepidation as my fiance used to climb years ago. Part way through this novel I turned to him and made him promise Mt Everest would never be an option. Thankfully he agreed. I wouldn't have had the strength Ruth had to live through the worry, fear and anxiety, although I completely understand how she needed to let George go, how she desperately didn't want to change him, yet wanted him to change at the same time. It was heartwrenching.

Above All Things (which is probably the best title for a book I have ever come across as it is so fitting that I had to sit back a few times in appreciation) is so intense that I was actually somewhat glad I was sick while reading it. If my mind hadn't been hazy I think I might have had to put it down at times. Wrap yourself up in a blanket and read pick this one up today. You won't be disappointed.

Thank you to McClelland Stewart for our review copy!

Connect with Tanis Rideout here:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where We Have to Go by Lauren Kirshner

4 Star

When we first meet Lucy, she’s an imaginative eleven-year-old dreaming of a taste of freedom — and only beginning to grasp that all is not well between her parents. In the years that follow, Lucy’s journey to adulthood will see her question the limits of unconditional love, grow “criminally thin” as she stops eating, and discover complicated truths about what it means to be a young woman. Through it all, the central figure in Lucy’s life remains her mother, Joy, whose larger-than-life stories and boisterous voice belie a deep disappointment. As their relationship is tested again and again, Lucy comes to understand the resilience of the bonds that tie us to the ones we love.

Lydia - 4 Star

Where We Have to Go is a thoroughly enjoyable coming of age tale full of quirky characters, humour and angst. This story shines a light on some of the darker realities of a faultering marriage from a child's perspective and the long lasting effects of such a tumultuous upbringing. This novel could have been much more grim but Kirshner handles the fine line between humour and somber so deftly that the serious issues never come across as being made light of, which is a testament to her writing and something I greatly appreciated.

Anyone who had ever felt self conscious as a child or teen, or felt themselves odd or quirky or an outsider or had ever held their hands over their ears to ease parental bickering will be able to relate to this novel. Lucy Bloom is a wonderful protagonist. She's so cute and quirky and sad that you can't help but be empathetic towards her and as I watched her life grew more complicated as she navigates her teens, I found myself cringing and wanting to scream at her and everyone around her. And then on the next page I would find myself chortling or with a grin on my face. It was so well written in this aspect that I loved the constant anticipation of what emotion I would feel next.

As an only child, Lucy is left to navigate her parent's marriage through infidelity, separation and reuniting. There is much in this novel that is heartbreaking, but I always felt undercurrents of hope. I continuously rooted for Lucy and her family all the way through this novel and wanted to shake her parents to keep their issues from her and to actually see what she was going through. I could never figure out where Lucy would end up in life and I loved that.

Having grown up through the 70's, 80's and 90's, I loved the feeling of nostalgia Where do we go From Here brought. Along with all the childhood memories were many Canadianisms and Toronto references, which is always a bonus for me with any novel.

Where We Have to Go was a fabulous debut novel and I will definitely read another by Lauren Kirshner.

Thank you to McClelland and Stewart for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

Connect with Lauren Kirshner here:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Reads of 2012

Happy Holidays Everyone! 

We hope you have all had a fabulous 2012 and are gearing up for an even better 2013! After growing from two reviewers to four at the very end of 2011, Novel Escapes has just grown again and is now a little family of five. Despite the upheaval in all of our lives this year - between the four of us we had three moves, one pregnancy, three gravely ill parents, one engagement, two hyper toddlers, one new night school student, and one almost finished manuscript - we've managed to keep on reading on and post more reviews this year than ever! We are all hoping life settles down in 2013 and that we can post even more reviews in the upcoming year. 

Warm wishes for a safe, happy and healthy holiday and the 2013 of your dreams.

The Novel Escapes Team
Lydia, Kathryn, Kaley, Sabrina-Kate and Jen





Unmasking Maya by Libby Mercer

3 Star

Fresh from a career-killing scandal, New York fashion girl, Maya Kirkwood, arrives in San Francisco to reinvent herself as a fine artist. She's offered the opportunity to create an installation at the Silicon Valley headquarters of a hot new tech company. Fabulous, right?
Not so much.

She can't stand Derek Whitley - wunderkind software genius and CEO of the company. Hot as he may be on the outside, inside the man is a cold, unemotional, robotic type. Way too left-brained for her right-brained self.

As Maya and Derek get to know each other, however, their facades begin to crack. She catches her first glimpse of the man behind the superhuman tech prodigy, and he starts to see her as the woman she used to be. But is this a good thing? Once that last secret is revealed, will it bring them closer together or will it tear them apart?

Jen - 3 Star

This story has it all for me. Unmasking Maya introduced me to Maya, a confident and talented main character and Derek, a hot, mysterious love interest and a secret. If the author, Libby Mercer, had written the book with just a tad bit more detail and and the book was longer, it would have easily hit the 5 star mark.

I liked Maya right away. She seems like someone I would admire in real life. She’s an artist with a background in fashion design, which the author describes in really great details. I couldn’t see the artwork, but I could envision the colors and fabrics thanks to the descriptive writing.

I kept thinking as I was writing, that I felt bad for Maya. She was alone in a new city, doesn’t have a lot of friends around and is working for a guy that seems like a jerk. But even though he is a jerk, you love to hate and hate to love Derek, the big CEO loner she is commissioned to do artwork for. And then before I knew what was happening, I was secretly rooting for Derek to sweep Maya off her feet.

And he did, but not in that romantic comedy way where they chase the girl through the city on a bike they stole from a guy on the street. Derek made Maya fall in love with him in a slow, self assured pace, in his own sweet time, which fits his character perfectly. However, during the book where Derek and Maya are obviously falling for each other, I found myself asking for more information. I felt like they needed just a couple more “soul bearing” conversations, especially from Derek’s point of view. They needed a little bit more passion and if I’m being really honest, more kissing! But maybe that’s just me and my need for romance in my books.

Intermixed with Maya and Derek’s story are details of Maya’s mysterious past and why she ended up in San Francisco and not in New York City as a fashion designer. I loved how the mystery unfolds, with little bits of information here and there and surprise characters who show up unexpectedly.

I remember, right at the end of the book, when I realized that I was actually SMILING as I read. And that, my friends, is a sign of a good read.

Thank you to Libby Mercer for our review copy!

Connect with her here:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Twelve Days to Christmas by Michele Gorman

3.5 Star
"What if his proposal had an expiration date?"

Hannah’s in a bit of a pickle. In twelve days she flies from Hong Kong to the US with Sam, where he’s finally going to meet her parents… and ask to marry her.

Since overcoming a rather rocky patch in their relationship (which was totally his fault), he really is a new man, and they’re completely in love. The problem is, she feels panicky every time she contemplates matrimony. Which is perfectly normal, isn’t it? Isn’t it?! She has no idea but she’s got to find out before he pops the question... because she’s not 100% sure she’s going to say yes. Which will make for a very uncomfortable family holiday. He’s got to ask her before they go. So Operation Proposal begins.

As time ticks down to their flight, Hannah realizes that her own secrets are threatening their future. Before she can be happy with Sam, she’s got a lot to learn about herself in the twelve days to Christmas.

Lydia - 3.5 Star

The Twelve Days to Christmas is the third installment in a series beginning with Single Girl in the City and Misfortune Cookie and it is just as easy and enjoyable to read Hannah's continuing adventures in life and love. I had anticipated reading more of Hannah's adventures while this novella sat in my to-be-read pile, but I found myself a tad  disappointed that this was just a novella of about 150 pages, especially when I discovered that there was much repetition of what occured in the previous novels. Other than wishing it was longer, and that we were treated to some more new material, I enjoyed this fun read.

There was movement forward in Hannah's life, but it wasn't quite as developed as I think I would have liked due to a lot of backstory being slotted in. The great part about this novella was that I didn't find The Twelve Days to Christmas at all predictable and it kept me on my toes - almost too much - to the point where I wasn't certain of the ending. I was just as confused about Hannah's impending proposal as she was and I couldn't figure out whether I wanted him to propose or not - or have her say yes. To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure about how everything unfolded.

Overall, The Twelve Days to Christmas is a short and sweet read and anyone with a sense of Christmas adventure should love, it or anyone looking to catch up with Hannah. I just wish it had been a bit longer and little less repetitive, although anyone who hasn't read the first two novels in the series definitely won't be lost.

Thank you to Michele Gorman for our review copy! All opinions are our own. 

Connect with Michele here:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Green Ticket by Samantha March

3.5 Star

College junior Alex Abrams scores her dream job at the ripe age of twenty – manager to a successful salon and spa. Thrilled to finally have a real adult job, Alex enthusiastically jumps into the world of schedules, conference calls, and getting a massage when interviewing prospective employees. What she doesn’t expect are the very grown-up issues that comes with a demanding boss. Kevin Dohlman quickly becomes Alex’s worse nightmare – covering up his affairs, dealing with his enormous ego, and trying to protect her female staff from him becomes a full-time job in its own right. Alex has also befriended Kevin’s wife and co-owner, Dani, and is trying to keep Kevin’s secrets hidden from her. The situation only worsens when Kevin starts paying Alex off to make sure she keeps her insider knowledge to herself.

While struggling to keep her wits and stay happy with her new grown-up job, Alex is juggling college courses, a new love interest, and keeping up with her close group of girlfriends. When her roommate and best friend Lila gets offered an opportunity to move to Los Angeles and sign with an agent, Alex realizes her life truly is changing, and everyone around her – including herself - is is growing up. Knowing she is faced with some hard decisions ahead, Alex struggles with keeping her job at Blissful. But does she really want to throw away what she dreamed of as a career – or will the secret-keeping for Kevin become too much to handle? The Green Ticket is a story about morals versus money, and how one young woman navigates the shaky line between the two.


Lydia - 3.5 Star

I became immersed in The Green Ticket quickly, eager to find out what would happen to Alex. A novel about growing up quickly and discovering the person you want to be, with some fun and love along the way, The Green Ticket is an easy, fun read about growing into adulthood.

Alex is a great character to root for. I wanted her to succeed, to come into her own, and to follow her dreams. I hated seeing anyone trying to thwart them, or upset her. Sometimes I just wanted to hug her, and she wasn't the only great character. I loved her circle of close friends. They're all so wonderful and supportive and many of the scenes of the five of them together made me laugh. I was completely transported back to my university days full of primping, parties, boys, and maybe some learning on the side. I really enjoyed her love interest, Harry. He comes across as genuine and real and nothing pleased me more than having her fall for a great guy! Her Besite and roommate, Lila, was such a fun character and their love and concern and support for each other came shining through.

One thing I will say for Samantha's writing is that she has great stories that resonate and have great messages. Sometimes though, as I was reading, I seemed to crave some heavier hitting scenes and maybe to get out of Alex's head sometimes from having her describe things. I wanted to see them in a scene where they might have a bit more impact. Also, I might have liked to see some of the characters act a little 'out of character' to give them a bit more depth and dimension.

Young Adult isn't entirely my genre, although I'll pick one up from time to time and overall, I enjoyed this coming of age tale and I'm sure anyone who regularly reads Young Adult will love The Green Ticket.

Thank you to Samantha March for our review copy. All opinions are our own.   

Connect with Samantha here:


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