Cheers to 2021, and a few new book reviews!

Last year was challenging to try keep up with my book review blog. I have been working through an After-Degree in Secondary Education which has used up much of my spare time for reading for pleasure. In addition to my education, I have also been writing occasionally for Athabasca Universities’ The Voice student magazine. Writing for The Voice has stretched me as a writer – I have had to learn to take random topics (which I may not know anything about), research the key points and write a persuasive, interesting article that students will want to read. If you love to read about current issuing impacting the lives of everyday people in Canada, I would highly recommend signing up for their free weekly e-magazine.

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin

In a way, this is a coming of age story and a story of a midlife crisis. Nessa is struggling through her personal life and career when her past comes back to haunt her emotionally. Nessa is forced to deal with her own grief and disappointment in her choices as a young adult when the son of a friend unexpectedly comes back into her life. The Robert Locke artistic through-line was intriguing and I felt Nessa’s passion for art through her character. Some of the story was a bit too clean and predictable which is why I have given it a 4 out of 5. It doesn’t challenge the reader to think deeper into certain topics or require any knowledge of art to enjoy. I do however feel this novel is on par with many other new fiction books I have read recently. Like many contemporary narratives, The Art of Falling deals with personal and emotional struggles (ie the battle within) and has less to do with an identifiable physical conflict. McLaughlin certainly does a lot to keep the reader entertained with the ongoing Locke family drama and Nessa’s own family conflicts. 

I would definitely recommend The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin and it is an enjoyable and entertaining read. I would not have guessed it was the author’s first novel if it wasn’t for reading other reviewers’ comments. I also want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for a chance to read and review this novel.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a sample of this book and loved every minute of it. It gets to the heart of the Spanish Civil War and what life was like for everyday citizens under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. As I only received a snippet of this novel, I can only speak to the initial character development. The story (at least initially) weaves between Ana, Daniel, Puri and Rafael’s experiences; this seems disjointed at first until the narrative begins to slow connect the lives of these characters together. A touching line “Your duty, your mission as a woman is to serve” represents a prevailing ideology on the role of women during this moment in history. It was not a free world for both women and men to come and go, doing as they please. It was a dictatorship where only those at the top of the pyramid thrived and the purpose of everyone below was to serve and be obedient supplicants to the desires of those in control. The American’s, past their own civil war, come from a democratic society cannot possibly understand the daily struggles of average people living under Franco’s regime. One of my favourite authors is the late Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and this story brings me back to Alicia’s story in “The Labyrinth of the Spirits.” I loved every minute of this book and would love to read the entire story!

I would also like to thank NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read and review a sample of this book.

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Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this novel as part of my Education program, but would definitely consider using it in an ELA classroom in Grades 10-12. There are several core elements, such as themes of identity and loss and recovery as well as threads of symbols and magical realism. What I loved most about this novel is King is able to convey real emotions and challenges of teenagers while also transmitting another way of life. I have read some of King’s articles about historical narrative and I believe this novel really gets to the heart of how to show students another way of life, while also being relatable. There are many things everyday teenagers can connect with in this novel such as relationships and family life, while other areas give us a glimpse into the events impacting the lives of First Nations Peoples who live along the Canada/US border. This novel also goes much deeper than surface level themes, it gets to the heart of community narratives and how events of the past impact the lives of people today. There is privilege and disenfranchisement, there is hope for the future while also examples of deeply rooted regrets. If you want something to read out of the ordinary, something that will challenge your way of thinking and viewing the world, I would highly recommend reading Truth and Bright Water

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A Story About a Queen, a King and a Special Gift

The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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There is so much to love about Arthur Phillips’ newest novel The King at the Edge of the World . It is a historical fiction and transports the reader back to the Elizabethan era, a time when a person’s religious beliefs could mean the difference between life and death. This is also a time when the arts became accessible to more of the population; music, painting and theatre were used to shape personal views and impression. Phillips harnesses this time of expression and uses it throughout the novel to build intrigue and mood. In my opinion, the addition of theatre and stage plots within the novel adds to its reliability as a historical fiction by creating a sense of realism and presentism.

Mahmoud Ezzedine, one of the main characters, finds himself quite literally forced into the lives and castles of Queen Elizabeth I of England and King James VI of Scotland. As a medical doctor, Ezzedine was a gift by the Turks with the intention that he might promote good health and establish relationships between England and the Turks in Constantinople. Later he is regifted by England to Scotland. One review online compares Ezzedine with Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels . I think this is an accurate analogy because like Gulliver, Ezzedine is able to critique and relay an outsider’s perspective on both English and Scottish society without being accused of choosing a side. It is for this reason that the ending of the novel doesn’t make sense to me. It seems disjointed from the rest of the larger theme. Without giving too much away, if Ezzedine character represents a critical, impartial outsider, then there must be an ending corresponding with his implied role.

My second biggest critique of this novel is that a good portion of this novel is not about King James VI. The title implies a story about a king and I found more than half of the story was not about him but about England and the Turkish empire. King James VI is also a secondary and not well developed character, at least in my opinion. We learn about what he does, his daily routine, but not who he is and what his relationships are like. I wish the story between Matthew Thatcher and King James VI began earlier in the plot and we were able to delve a bit deeper into who he is, possibly even explore more about his relationship with his wife. For this reason I gave the novel 4 out of 5 stars.

Should you read this book? I think so. I was surprisingly intrigued by the plot and Phillips’ writing demonstrates passion, research and experience. I also really love the cover!




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Upcoming YA Fiction: “A Song Below Water”

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

https://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/39085465-a-song-below-water



I honestly really loved this book and I think it is perfect for a YA audience. A Song Below Water is filled with themes of friendship, love and relationships mixed with a touch of magical realism. Effie and Tavia are as close as sisters can be and yet they each have unique qualities and interests. Their everyday lives are made even more challenging with the addition of magical powers as they learn to use them carefully amidst rolling and uncontrollable emotions. In their hometown of Portland, regular people outnumber a handful of “unique” people with exceptional powers and abilities. Tavia is a siren. She is one of many who are required to keep their powers hidden because of the fear and prejudice against them. This is a novel about racism and sexism, but the through-line is subtle and doesn’t overwhelm the plot. I think these are important topics and I was initially worried that this novel might be too heavy but it was actually quite engaging and upbeat.

The two main characters struggle through friendships, betrayal, love and family dynamics while remaining optimistic and hopeful for something good to come out of it all. And then there is the Gargoyle; who wouldn’t love to have a Gargoyle keeping them safe and watching over them from a distance?

I think even adolescents who aren’t into fantasy would still love this book. Effie and Tavia exist in more than just a fantasy world, their world is relatable to everyday life and the supernatural is weaved throughout a believable and complex plot. That is a challenge for every author who writes magical realism; it takes skill to make the unbelievable become ordinary and rational.

I would highly recommend this book, mostly for adolescents who enjoy fantasy mixed with relationships and friendship. I also want to thank Macmillan-Tom Doherty Associates and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.




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Spring Reading

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43779862-grown-ups

Grown Ups


My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I will be honest and say I had a hard time finishing this book. There were too many characters and too many flashbacks (especially in the beginning) for the story to really take hold and draw me in. The beginning of the novel had strategically placed flashbacks to provide the reader with information but they were not believable and came across as forced information. It wasn’t until near the end when I really started to care about how everything was going to fall into place. I can’t even say I was satisfied with the ending.

When you look at the structure of the novel, there wasn’t really a central climax or even rising action. There were constant little fights between the characters, mostly between spouses, but not really any main plot to grasp onto as a reader. Reading this novel was like having a bird’s eye view of three different couples going through the motions of life and martial problems. Yes, the characters were likeable, especially Nell. However, there were times when family friends and the children’s friends all completely lost or uninterested me because there were too many names thrown around. I kept wondering where the story was going and if there was going to be a point to all the madness.

I appreciate the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this novel and generally I am a light critic. However, I feel Grown Ups was missing something major, a main plot element, and without it, the reader cannot be drawn into the story. As readers, we want to envision a part of ourselves when reading a book, but more importantly, we also want to escape reality, even if for just a few moments. By giving us martial problems without some element of thrill or excitement, a story just ends up being a retelling of everyday occurrences.

I would still recommend this book, but it was not my favourite. I am left feeling as though the story could be better, and be fixed into a really amazing novel.

Thank-you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada / Doubleday Canada for the opportunity to read and review this upcoming novel by Marian Keyes.



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February – Update on my READ 50 Challenge for 2020

     What are YOU reading in 2020? My reading list so far this year is full of variety. I have junior high ELA and SS textbooks, I have YA novels and then I have the “just for me” reading which I occasionally fit in between homework assignments.

     For one of my assignments in university this term, I created a book club plan for Grade 9 ELA students. The four books I chose for the in-class book club are used to initiate student discussions about collective identity, diversity and issues affecting Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Indian Act. In addition, I wanted to make sure that all of the books I chose were written by Canadian authors in order to support Canadian talent. I believe junior and senior high students want to read relevant, new fiction, as well as books they see adults reading. My hope is that by making intentional literary choices within the classroom, teachers CAN encourage students to become life long readers.

*Photos from: https://www.goodreads.com

My “currently reading” list:

(BUT, I am most looking forward to reading about what Edward Snowden has to say!)

*Happy Reading* 

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A Story About Love In All Its Forms

In Five YearsIn Five Years by Rebecca Serle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really heart warming story about love and friendship. Dannie is lost but doesn’t realize it; she has friends, the perfect career and the perfect boyfriend. Bella is Dannie’s best friend and her exact opposite. Bella is adventurous and takes risks trying to find true love and passion in her life. As best friends since childhood, Dannie and Bella complement and challenge one another. Eventually Dannie’s perfect life and bubble have to pop, but how will she survive such a dramatic blow to her perfectly orchestrated life?

This is ultimately a story about love in all it forms. As humans we have the ability to be passionate and love unconditionally. Rebecca Serle’s story shows us just how unpredictable love can be and how it reveals itself to us in unexpected ways. I appreciate how the narrative unfolds in the moment. Dannie tries to control every aspect of her life, but love cannot always be controlled and it can lead us on paths we never thought we would go. In one instance, Dannie and David’s relationship is referred to as a parallel path, I would argue that love does this as well. We have the ability to love in my forms at the same time without our love for one person affecting our love for another. If you appreciate a great story with many hidden connections and deeper contexts, then this is a great book for you! I would definitely not hesitate to recommend this book.

I also want to thank NetGalley and the Publisher Atria Books for the opportunity to read and review a copy of this novel.

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My first read of 2020! A book filled with intrigue and murder in 19th century Guatemala City

The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several PartsThe Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts by Sylvia Sellers-García

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved reading The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts. It reads as an account of life in Guatemala in the 1800s. I appreciate the author’s in-depth analysis of crime, social thought and class/gender divisions within the culture at the time. As I was reading, I found myself considering how much time and effort Sylvia Sellers-García must have spent researching for this book. Her research goes beyond the events surrounding the severed body parts and encompasses many of the aspects of everyday life in Guatemala at the time. Having a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, I am fascinated by many of the avenues Sellers-García explores when considering gender roles, the concept of violence and the role colonialism played in the formation of Guatemala city’s criminal governance. The descriptions of Guatemala City, the San Juan de Dios Hospital, the residential areas and cemetery help to develop a setting that makes you feel like you are walking through 19th century Guatemala. The brief glimpses of the past from the hospital records and criminal cases also really caught and held my interest as a reader.

The historical information and the evaluation of viewpoints at each stage of the investigation deserves a 4/5 for me on my overall rating of this book. It was historically fascinating to read and taught me many things about Guatemalan history that I was not aware of. On one side, I absorbed all of the intriguing the content in this book, but on the other side, the format left me wanting more of a narrative to keep it cohesive. I will be honest in saying it reads more like an essay or a research paper, than a novel or book. The chapters are almost irrelevant; the last chapter especially deviates too far from the core investigation to keep the narrative cohesive. The epilogue brings it back somewhat, at least in my opinion. I was hoping for more of a narrative fictional or non-fictional from this book which is why I have only given it 4 out of 5 stars.

I would still highly recommend this book to people, especially those who share my passion of history in Central and South America. I have been to Guatemala City and Antigua and The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts really brought me back to recalling my own experience in these cities. I had the opportunity to stay for a night in the home of a resident of Guatemala City. Their home’s vast and elaborate interior was exposed upon entering through large wooden doors fronting an otherwise average street. I recall being amazed at how large and welcoming the home was and how I never would have been able to guess what it held inside just passing by on the street. So I want to thank Sellers-García for bringing back some of those memories for me. I also want to thank NetGalley and Yale University Press so the opportunity to read and review this book!

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Coming Soon: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Christmas ShopaholicChristmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

~Expected Publication October 17, 2019

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will definitely be recommending Christmas Shopaholic to my friends this Christmas (and will probably gift a few copies to people too). It is a fun, energetic Christmas story will all the right elements of the seasonal shopping fiasco! Every family experiences similar holiday challenges of what gifts to get, how to decorate, a menu that will please everyone and Becky goes through all of that and more. It is definitely all about Becky and includes her usual unrestrained spending habits only elevated to match the Christmas shopping frenzy and Becky’s desire to try to please everyone. There are food planning disasters, family fighting and Christmas concert mishaps.

My two biggest critiques about the novel would be the setting and the predictability. When I think about the story, nothing about the setting jumps out at me or was particularly memorable, it seemed to fall short of the normal holiday ambiance one might expect in a Christmas novel. In addition, the events in the novel are predictable and maybe too much so for my taste. I like the silly, OMG moments Becky has, I am just not sure they need to be as predictable and foreshadowed as much as they are because it takes away from some of the humour.

However, despite my criticisms, I still would highly recommend Christmas Shopaholic to my friends this Christmas. It is festive and witty novel that brings a joyfulness to the crazy shopping season we all experience.

I also want to thank NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for a chance to read and review this book!

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A Perfect Summer Read Leaving You Dreaming of the French Riviera

 

Fatal InheritanceFatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fatal Inheritance checks off ALL of my “summer read” boxes! This story is light-hearted with an adventurous heroine who is off to discover the secret behind her unexpected inheritance. The setting is the delectable French Riviera and the author definitely delivers on character development, plot and setting. The scenery enticed me and left me dreaming of the Mediterranean coastline and the essence of the holiday lifestyle of the elite.

In the beginning, Eve, the main character is slightly naive, trusting and vulnerable. However, through her journey we see a new Eve emerge who is quite audacious and self-sufficient. She meets so many fascinating people along her journey and Eve discovers the world can offer her so much more than she has imagined. I almost envision this novel as a coming of age book; Eve is realizing the world is much bigger and more exciting than she has been lead to believe. The author does a great job at integrating each of the supporting characters into the plot and making them unique and memorable. Noel is brooding and mysterious while at the same time he makes the reader want to know more about him. And don’t even get me started on Sully! I love his quirkiness and his ability to connect everyone who comes in contact with Villa La Perle.

I generally judge a book by the way in which I am captivated by the story as well as how I feel after finishing it. With Fatal Inheritance I was sad to have the story end; I wanted to find out more about Eve’s adventures and what else lies ahead for her. I also read the novel quite quickly which is often a good sign that it is entertaining enough for me to want to keep reading. The plot is full of twists, secrets and excitement. There are dinner parties to attend with famous people whom Eve has never imagined she would ever cross paths with. I also appreciated the theme of “love” throughout; it was definitely something people lost hope in during this time in history.

If you are looking for an enchanting, adventurous read while sitting at the beach this summer, I would highly recommend Fatal Inheritance!

I appreciate being able to read an ARC of Fatal Inheritance and I would like to thank NetGalley and the Publishers Simon & Schuster Canada / Washington Square Press for the opportunity to read and review it.

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A Historical Fiction for Outlander Enthusiasts!

The LairdThe Laird by Virginia Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Laird was an unexpected delight to read. I imagine this novel will be scooped up by Outlander and Historical Fiction enthusiasts alike. The characters are complex and genuine. Virginia Brown does an excellent job describing the Scottish history and landscape leaving the reader dreaming about life in the highlands. Judith Lindsay is the heroine of the novel. Judith is a widow and has yet to find a place where she really feels a sense of belonging. Because of her past, Judith sets her expectations high and holds her ground even when she doesn’t have a reason to have hope. The confident and ambitious Robert Campbell is an equal force to reckon with. Rob is determined to stay true to his morals and obligations no matter what the cost. He is limited it seems, only by his physical body, which occasionally fails him.

My one criticism for this novel is the excessive use of figurative language in the first few pages. The flowery prose was a bit unnecessary and as a result the sentences did not flow as naturally as they could. Although, once you trek on past the first few pages the writing style becomes more natural and effortless to read.

Overall I thought The Laird was a wonderful and after reading it, I am excited to delve into more of Virginia Brown’s novels to see what they are like. I would definitely recommend reading this book!

I also want to thank NetGalley and Bell Bridge Books for the opportunity to have an advanced e-book of The Laird to read and review.

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