Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

3.5 Star

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she's at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason. As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past - until she realizes Mariana's life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.

Lydia - 3.5 Star

Mariana is an entertaining, easy read and the centuries old love explored requires some suspension of belief, but those those who enjoy paranormal novels as well as those with romantic notions will appreciate this unique novel.

Paranormal stories don't usually make my favourite list. The Time Traveler's Wife didn't really do it for me, but Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl did - so it's hard to say what exactly will appeal and although I didn't fall in love with Mariana, I never at any time wanted to throw the novel across the room in a fit of disbelief nor did I walk away having felt I'd wasted my time. Susanna Kearsley makes this novel seem believable and the romantic in me appreciated the centuries old love portrayed.

I found the exploration of reincarnation interesting especially in the context of religion. Julia's brother is a vicar and when she confides in him about her episodes, he indulges her and does some research and I found his findings fascinating coming from organized religion. Also absorbing was the idea that someone could actually know when they were reincarnated as opposed to just being reincarnated and getting on with it, which, to be honest, I had never given much thought. But to be given a second chance, to find those with whom you are meant to finish business with, regardless of what it is, was utterly fascinating to me.

I love novels that take place in tiny towns and villages in England. They always make me want to pick up and move to one, take a step into the local pub and make friends for life.  I loved all the supporting characters, especially Vivienne who was larger than life as were most of the characters in this novel.

Not a fan of long drawn out descriptions, Mariana has just the right amount of detail according to my taste and is interconnected to the story instead of just being there for descriptive purposes. This novel also held enough intrigue to keep my interest and even though I thought I had it figured out, I was never entirely sure whether I was right which I loved. 

Unfortunately though, I didn't find Mariana quite as absorbing as I had hoped it would be despite the many intriguing aspects I found to this story. I drifted along with Julia and Mariana as they transitioned back and forth in time and although the historical story is tragic and moving, I never felt as much emotion as I had hoped I would - and I have old romantic bones in my body. All in all though, I enjoyed this read and would definitely pick up more from Kearsley.

Thank you to Sourcebooks for our review copy!

Connect with Susanna Kearsley here:
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

3.5 Star

The school is on fire. Her children are inside.

Grace runs toward the burning building, desperate to reach them.

In the aftermath of the devastating fire which tears her family apart, Grace embarks on a mission to find the person responsible and protect her children from further harm.  This fire was not an accident, and her daughter Jenny may still be in grave danger. Grace is the only one who can discover the culprit, and she will do whatever it takes to save her family and find out who committed the crime that rocked their lives.  While unearthing truths about her life that may help her find answers, Grace learns more about everyone around her -- and finds she has courage she never knew she possessed.

Sabrina-Kate - 3.5 Star

I enjoyed Afterwards, but unfortunately it frustrated me at times because I was anxious for the ending to be revealed in order to know who really caused the tragic fire which is a testament to the power of the story within. The premise of two people in comas being able to bond as they did in waking life was an interesting one which seemed to somewhat work in this case, despite my initial reservations about it.

I did however keep vacillating on what I was feeling about this book. At times I was very hooked, other times I was hoping a chapter would move on already, sometimes I found the story strange and utterly unbelievable and then I'd find myself empathizing with the characters. The feelings of the spirits/angels or whatever the main characters are purported to be seemed to vary and it didn't always seem to make sense to me how they would travel or act.

The other troubling point is the fact that the mother seems to be narrating much of the story to her husband though it doesn't always remain in that voice so it can somewhat become a bit confusing. All in all, I enjoyed the book but didn't love it. The story was good because it was unpredictable but unfortunately I felt it was also a bit much in the end.

Thank you to Crown Publishing for our review copy!

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal

5 Star

After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.

Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.

Lydia - 5 Star

When I read the first page of The Garden of Happy Endings realized it was about a reverend and then shortly after, a priest, I might have actually groaned out loud. In a shocking twist though, I ended up loving this novel – almost from the first page.  I was stunned at how relatable the characters were even though it has been decades since organized religion has played a role in my life.  Anyone who has questioned the choices they have made or questioned the devastating decisions of others as well as anyone with compassion, a sense of community or has suffered a crisis of faith will enjoy The Garden of Happy Endings.

I think I’ve always viewed priests and ministers like I used to view teachers as a child – or how I viewed any adult as a child for that matter – as an authority figure and nothing beyond that. Except with priests and ministers I have never ventured beyond the part where I can think of them having a life outside of their vocation, especially as priests and ministers essentially are their vocation. I have never really seen them as human beings I guess and here’s the magic of this novel, and is a true testament to the Barbara O’Neal on how convincing her writing is - these characters come across as utterly real, fully relatable and human.

The fact that both Elsa and Joaquin had rich lives prior to marrying their respective churches was probably what helped this for me, as well as seeing them in their day to day activities and questioning their choices, and some even their faith.  They were never portrayed as perfect which one might expect in a novel with a religious angle. Instead, they were perfectly flawed, even the priest who has his own guilt and demons to overcome and who was probably my least favourite character. 

Having diverged from my upbringing of Catholicism when I was old enough understand and make my own decisions, I could comprehend Elsa’s ministry and those who followed her even though I have never desired to delve further into any sect of organized religion. I enjoyed reading about the contrast between the two churches and the communities that surrounded them and every character in this novel stood out, even the ones who played minor roles. 

Tamsin’s story was equally fascinating to me with her husband’s disappearance and Ponzi scheme unraveling. There is a quiet strength among the sisters who solider on in the face of adversity, although the novel doesn't only explore their growth and sisterly bond, but also that of the men surrounding them.

The Garden of Happy Endings is easy to read and made me think, which surprised me as it comes from such a religious stance and I was surprised at how many sides of various issues and ideas were explored.  I adored the portrayal of community which I found astounding and anything to do with gardening is always a win with me.

I never at any time felt this novel was predictable.  There was the undercurrent of a threat and the connection between Elsa and Deacon, but I was never certain how everything would play out. 

Love, community – regardless of how you serve it - choices and ultimately acceptance, The Garden of Happy Endings is a thought provoking read that I enjoyed every drop of.  I look forward to reading more from Barbara O’Neal.

Thank you to Bantam for our review copy!

Connect with Barbara O'Neal here:
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman

3.5 Star

Retired Boston cop Eddie Perlmutter returns in Steven Forman's Boca Daze.  Since moving to Boca Raton, Florida, Eddie’s busted Russian counterfeiters, solved at least two murders, thwarted neo-Nazi harassment, and gained justice for a number of those who couldn’t do it for themselves. This “Boca Knight” knows no fear—except perhaps when he’s facing the intimate challenge of sex as a sexagenarian. But Eddie may have met his match when he tries to shut down a string of illegal pill mills and finds himself a financial scammer as big as Bernie Madoff.

Armed with his unfailing wit, his Boston-bred fighting skills, and his courage in the face of danger that would make any sensible retiree head for the comfort of his condo, Eddie’s walking on gimpy knees straight into the most dangerous game of his never-dull life.


Sabrina-Kate - 3.5 Star

Boca Daze not one of the usual books that I would read. It kind of reminded me of something I'd pick up if I was at a relative's or someone's beach house and was looking for something to read. Not that I regretted reading it; quite the contrary. This book was an entertaining read with well developed characters and the main protagonist kind of reminded me of a Columbo type.

The story flowed very well and I could believe that it would be something I'd see on a crime show like CSI or something, but I didn't buy that a retiree in Boca Raton was necessarily investigating and solving all of the crimes he did. That being said, the Steven M Forman did an excellent job of making the story move along with ease. The chapters were short just the way I like them and the book was infused with lots of witty humour.

I believe that if you like this kind of book, you'll like this one.

Thank you to Forge Books for our review copy!

Connect with Steven M Forman here:


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Singles by Meredith Goldstein

4 Star

Bee wanted the perfect wedding; she got the “Singles.”

Back in her single days—before she met the man of her dreams—Beth “Bee” Evans hated being forced to attend weddings solo. Determined to spare her friends the same humiliation, she invites everyone on her list with a guest. Much to her chagrin, however, Hannah, Vicki, Rob, Joe, and Nancy insist upon attending Bee’s lavish Chesapeake Bay nuptials alone. The frustrated bride dubs them the “Minus-Ones” and their collective decision wreaks unintended havoc on her otherwise perfectly planned wedding weekend.

Lydia - 4 Star

I enjoyed this lighthearted tale of singles converging at a mutual friend’s wedding.  Having been in this position more than once during my lifetime, I could relate to how difficult the position can be. In the promotional material received with this novel, The Singles was likened to the movie Bridesmaids, but I couldn’t see that much of a connection really.  It wasn’t nearly as funny, so I might have been a bit disappointed in that respect after reading this comparison.  Overall, though, I really liked all the complicated and confused characters but unfortunately I felt we didn’t get to see enough of them.
 
I really wished this novel was longer.  It took over 100 pages to be introduced to each character as it was told from their individual perspectives and much of that was back story about how they all met or knew each other or grew apart before they actually arrived at the wedding.  I knew as soon as I hit this point that The Singles would be too short as there were only 140 pages left for something monumental to actually happen. Because there were so many people and so few pages devoted to each that I didn’t feel like the novel captured enough of each character and I found myself wanting more from each of them. I wanted to get to know them better and see more interactions and events to occur between them than actually did.
 
I loved that the singles were a variety of ages which gave different perspectives and stories. The characters weren’t caricatures either.  They were each unique with unusual, quirky issues and interactions and I liked how the wedding gave them all perspective about their lives and the impetus to move on or in a new direction.
 
Regardless of its short and sweet nature, The Singles is still a fun read and is a novel that everyone who has ever sat solo at a wedding should be able to relate to. And even those who haven’t. There are coupledom antics and those wedding clich├ęd folks we all know and loathe – the overzealous bridesmaid, the overbearing mother of the bride, the drunken dancers, the long winded speech maker – I could go on, but dancing around the quirky cast of main characters, there are enough amusing wedding antics and characters that anyone who has ever attended a wedding can relate to.
 
If you’re looking for a light-hearted read with a wedding theme, pick up The Singles.

Thank you to Plume for our review copy!

Connect with Meredith Goldstein here:
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Friday, May 18, 2012

The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

5 Star

To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one summer day Joe breaks his own rule-never turn your back on the ocean-and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets. 

For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe's story. "Ella's the best thing that's happened to this family," say her close-knit Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella's quest for truth.
 

 5 Star

I immediately related to the characters in The Underside of Joy and the children in particular were enchanting. Ella Beene was a warm and engaging mother and their loss at the beginning of the story broke my heart completely. But I really enjoyed the fact that this novel opened my mind to the possibility of other people loving children the way parents obviously do.  I was always on Ella’s side until I really started to try and think like the mother- if those were my children and I had had to make the awful decision to leave them (or cause them emotional harm) then I would really want to have them back in my life when it was possible again.  For Paige to approach their stepmother and try and breach the gap was heartbreaking to read and at the same time having Ella trying to keep the children with her and their father’s family was so difficult.

I loved the historical aspect of Joe’s family store, the generations running it in this small American town and was educated by the little bits of information about the Italian-American internment camps during World War II.

Halverson was very careful about giving the reader just enough information to gradually come around to feeling for both women and I really respect the way she laid out the story a little bit at a time.  We weren’t given too much to handle and this allowed the novel to feel serene and soft when there were so many emotions obviously swirling.  The Underside of Joy is a story perfectly told with natural people going through the toughest of times.

Thank you to Dutton for our review copy!

Connect with Sere Prince Halverson here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taking Charge by Mandy Baggot

3.5 Star

Is going back Robyn’s only way forward?
American-born Robyn Matthers is going home. With her dad in hospital, his roadhouse in ruins and the ice hockey team slipping down the league, she needs to take charge. But does she have the strength to do it?
Cole Ryan is a hockey player on a personal mission. He’s tall, dark, hot and Robyn’s noticed! But can she trust her feelings - or his? And what will Cole do when he finds out the truth about her?
With an ill father, a trailer trash step-mom and ex-boyfriend Brad desperate for another chance, does Robyn have time to contemplate a relationship? Can she start again? Does she really want to? And can two people really fall in love in three days?


Kaley - 3.5 Star

There’s a lot going on in Taking Chargeand it easily could have been too drama filled but, luckily, author Mandy Baggot is able to find a balance and delivers an enjoyable novel.

Bear with me while I start off with a mini rant that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the book. I am Canadian and that means hockey is a part of my life (I’m totally playing into stereotypes here but that’s ok). It drove me absolutely crazy that Baggot kept referring to the sport as “ice hockey.” I know that sounds ridiculous but, to me, “ice” is redundant. Up here there’s one kind of hockey and all those others (ball, field) need to be identified.  Also, the little glossary at the beginning of the novel was kind of neat but to define NHL? I’m pretty sure I knew what that was when I was a kid. This is totally a personal opinion but I had to let you all know that I wanted to scream every time I read “ice hockey”! That being said – I loved that hockey played such a huge part in this novel. There aren’t enough books that feature hockey players and this one was able to have the sport be an integral part of the plot but not overtake the main story. Oh, and I loved that no one knew where Henrik, the random European, was from!

Robyn was hard to connect with. She had a wall up when it came to the people in her life and, unfortunately, that wall came up between her and me as well. She had such a tough exterior and wouldn’t let anyone close to her. I knew, as Cole did, that there had to be a reason for her prickliness. Once I found out what had happened to Robyn (and I definitely wouldn’t have guessed it) I could understand why she hadn’t come home in nine years and why she threw herself into bringing back the diner and hockey team. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t get a good sense of Robyn right away but eventually I was able to better understand her and relate to her a little bit more.

In some ways I found it strange that Robyn could fall back into her old group of friends as she did. She had been away for almost a decade and had had little contact with most of those people. At the same time, it was awesome to see how she could go back and it was like nothing had changed. It made me think about my own group of friends when I was sixteen and what it’d be like to hang out with some of them now (as I’m the same age as Robyn). Making me think and relate things back to my own life was a definite plus for this book. Love that!

Overall, I enjoyed reading Taking Charge. Mandy Baggot created a tomboy main character that was fun to read about. While I did figure out the big twist well before everyone else did I was happy that the rest of the novel was not predictable.  I think other chick lit lovers would enjoy this one as well and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of Baggot’s books!

Thank you to Mandy Baggot for our review copy!

Connect with Mandy here:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker

5 Star

In the isolated Cape Cod village of Prospect, the Gilly sisters are as different as can be. Jo, a fierce and quiet loner, is devoted to the mysteries of her family's salt farm, while Claire is popular, pretty, and yearns to flee the salt at any cost. But the Gilly land hides a dark legacy that proves impossible to escape. Although the community half-suspects the Gilly sisters might be witches, it doesn't stop Whit Turner, the town's wealthiest bachelor, from forcing his way into their lives. It's Jo who first steals Whit's heart, but it is Claire--heartbroken over her high school sweetheart--who marries him.

Years later, estranged from her family, Claire finds herself thrust back onto the farm with the last person she would have chosen: her husband's pregnant mistress. Suddenly, alliances change, old loves return, and new battle lines are drawn. What the Gilly sisters learn about each other, the land around them, and the power of the salt, will not only change each of their lives forever, it will also alter Gilly history for good. 



Lydia - 5 Star

Full of family secrets, small town antics and an exploration of the family bond that keeps us together and repels us apart, The Gilly Salt Sisters is a mesmerizing read. Although it started a tad slow for me, especially as we started with a woman comes across as bitter and who was literally burned by life, I warmed up quickly to the women and their respective and intertwined plights and ended up really enjoying this read which was a pleasant surprise as I wasn’t entirely sure in the beginning.
 
This novel held a strong under tow.  One minute I was bobbing along gradually, not really sunk deep into the story and suddenly I was drowning and unable to stop thinking about the sisters and their situations. 
 
Much to my surprise I enjoyed the explanation and attention to detail that the salt was given in the story.  It was incredibly unique and I had never really considered where salt came from or how it is produced and I enjoyed learning about it through the details given and appreciated that these never took over the story, but complimented it.  It was a fine line as much of the story surrounded the Gilly’s salt farm, the magic of the Gilly salt and the towns love-hate relationship with it, but Baker balanced this exceptionally well.
 
These sisters tell it like it is.  There is no sugar coating in this novel and there are a few scenes that are a little morbid at times, not to mention a bit shocking (cat lovers and religious folks, you may have a hard time digesting a few scenes and ideas within this novel). Their voices resonated as real and I could feel myself transported into their world and got swept away by this intense story. 
 
The Gilly Salt Sisters kept me on my toes.  Although easy to figure out a couple of the hidden truths, there was enough mystery involved to keep me reading to see how it would play out.  I really rooted for the sisters, even though at times I didn’t even completely love their characters. They were quite bitter and hard to take at times, but their gradual changes over the course of the novel was enough to keep me rooting for them. In fact, pretty much everyone in the town is bitter, grouchy and unhappy but for some reason it’s not too depressing or over the top and is in fact a vital part of the sisters and their salt's story.
 
You can’t always outrun what you are or where you’ve come from and The Gilly Salt Sisters is a unique read that takes us on one such journey. I look forward to more from Tiffany Baker!

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing  for our review copy!

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