Young Adult Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

*Originally published 2016/02/23

While I worked at the bookstore I kept coming across this young adult book with a very gorgeous cover.  So when I saw it at the library a few weeks later I knew it was just meant to be. I remember being absorbed from the moment I opened the cover.  I only had to wait a few months for the second book (Rebel Angel) but the third (The Sweet Far Thing) wouldn’t be out for two years.  By that time I was busy graduating from University and figuring out my life.  I did manage to purchase a copy though, so good on me. Recently I read the first two books in Bray’s newest series, The Diviners, (second book is Lair of Dreams) and I loved them.  It got me thinking that I never finished the Gemma Doyle Trilogy that I had enjoyed so much.  My goal this year was to reread the first two and finally read the last book…

3682A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY (Gemma Doyle Trilogy: #1) Written by Libba Bray

Narrated by Josephine Bailey

2003, 403 Pages (11 Hours and 13 Minutes) Simon & Schuster

Genre: young adult, supernatural, suspense, romance


Rating: ★★★★★

Gemma is still trying to come to terms with foreseeing her mother’s death, and then having to see it come true.  Her brother and grandmother think she should leave India to attend Spence Academy for Girls in England.  As if Gemma wasn’t having a bad enough time the girls at the school have decided to snub her and make her an outcast.  Her roommate is a scholarship student who sides with the popular girls even though she too is made fun of by them.  The tide turns when she saves and in turns blackmails, Felicity the leader of the pack.  Trying to prove herself to Felicity and beautiful Pippa, Gemma brings along Ann and reveals some of her secrets and they soon find themselves involved in a supernatural mystery that could leave them in great peril.

I listened to A Great and Terrible Beauty on audio this time just for something different and really enjoyed Bailey’s narration.  Her impression of Ann’s nasally voice is spot-on, I think.  This is a perfect example of a young adult novel that is for both teens and adults.  There is nothing in this novel that is appropriate for a teen that watches young adult shows and movies.  Yet the plot is intricate enough to keep an adult engrossed.  Having just watched Penny Dreadful (definitely NOT for teens) I was geared up for the Victorian supernatural world.  I enjoyed the characters – main and secondary – as they were each so different and realistic.  I read this first when I was 24 and now at 35 I still would rate it a 5 star.  I really fell into the world created by Bray.

Review: She’s Not There

*Originally published 2016/02/23

244474I have been reading Joy Fielding’s novels since I picked up Kiss Mommy Goodbye. I think I was in my mid-teens when I read this book for the first time. I remember the cover was very 1980s and I think I first picked it up because it was so terrible looking.  I read the synopsis and it drew me – a divorced mother lets her children go away for the weekend with their father but soon realizes she may not see them again.  I remember starting it on a Saturday morning and being sucked in for the rest of the day. I read a few more of her novels but it was in 2002 that I started back up with Fielding’s books.  I was in University at the time and had a day where my courses were 6 hours apart but not worth going back home.  I would study but I needed a break where my mind needed some fun reading.  I remember wandering the stacks of fiction and literature in awe of how many books I had not read…yet. (More about my University library wanderings in another post.)

I came upon an author I had not read in awhile…Joy Fielding.  The books the library had did not have jacket covers for hardcovers.  Often I picked a book based on title.  I can’t remember what book I started with but after finishing it I started to read everything written by Fielding I could get my hands on.  I reread the ones I first read in my teens as I could not remember the details.  Each book I read left an impression on me as Fielding is great with psychological suspense.  Whispers and Lies is my favourite to date as it left me speechless for a few days.  Then I got to The Wild Zone and I could not finish the novel without major skimming.  I was left bewildered to the point I did not pick up another Fielding book for 5 years (2 books in between).  I was afraid I had overdosed on Fielding and now my tolerance was not the same.  Last year I took a deep breath and tried Fielding’s new book, Someone is Watching and I enjoyed it but still lacked a little suspense for me.  This year when I saw there was a new Fielding book I knew I had to try again…

she's not thereSHE’S NOT THERE Written by Joy Fielding

2016; 368 Pages (Ballantine Books)

Genre: mystery, suspense, psychological

Rating: ★

(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY)

 Caroline Shipley’s husband, Hunter surprises her with an anniversary trip to Mexico with their two daughters, her brother and his wife, her best friend and her husband plus Hunter’s business friend and his wife.  When their babysitter does not show up Hunter talks Caroline into going to dinner anyway with them checking on their daughters every 30 minutes.  As they have dinner in the hotel restaurant they take turns checking on the girls and when they head up for the night they relaize their baby daughter, Samantha is missing.


Fifteen years later…Caroline has suffered not just by losing her daughter and not knowing if she is even alive, but by having reporters hound her every year over the kidnapping.  She has lost her husband, she can’t seem to get through to her other daughter, she cannot trust people or make new friends.  As she gears up for another year of reliving Samantha’s disappearance she receives a phone call from a young girl who thinks she may be Samantha and leads Caroline to more questions.  As everyone else tells her its a hoax she cannot help but explore the possibility her daughter is back even if it ruins her world further.


Wow, this book had me from the start and the emotional kick this novel has is intense.  I have to admit this was a book I stayed up till 1am reading.  I had to know if Lily was Samantha and what happened to Samantha either way.  I am not a mother but I have nieces and nephews and my bestie is pregnant with a girl so the premise of this story is definitely one of my worst nightmares.  And, having been lost a few times I understand that feeling of blind panic.  Not that you need any experience as Fielding delivers on emotional and psychological aspect of this suspense thriller.  She’s Not There reminds me of a vintage Fielding novel and I am excited again…and the two books I missed in those 5 years are getting read this year, count on.


I think in the coming month I may do some reviews of Joy Fielding’s books as I would recommend her novels to any mystery fan. And, she’s Canadian (who also lives in Florida!) If you have read all of Joy Fielding’s novels please try Mary Higgins Clark, Wendy Corsi Staub, Harlan Coben‘s standalone novels, Linwood Barclay‘s standalone novels and Carleen Thompson.

 

A Letter to Nell’s Fans

*Originally published 2016/02/19

Today Harper Lee died.  As you have read in previous posts, her novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been a great influence in my reading and thinking.  Today I want to take a moment and thank this amazing woman for  not just writing a great book that brought me more than a few hours of entertainment.  She has inspired me  I know that most readers leave TKAM wanting to be lawyers and change the world of law and justice.  I left TKAM wanting to be a writer.  I am not the person that will change the world in any way – no grand illusions here.  BUT I want to bring awareness of what our world is like now and hopefully inspire others that can change the world.  Lee wrote this novel in hopes of writing more works. She didn’t think it was going to be a best-seller or that it would mean so much to people.

I read TKAM and I came away with the one fact…the world is not fair.  It’s not black or white, right or wrong.  People do terrible things to good people and sometimes they won’t pay the consequences.  Not to get too deep, but it me question my own ideals, values and religion.  Every time I read the book I measure myself in a way.  I am a thinker, a worrier, a planner, and I express myself in words and writing.  I write because it frees my thoughts.  I choose to be an outsider and peer at the world in many lenses.  I know some people see it as hiding or not living my own life…but I love stories and being around them and telling them…it’s my thing. Whether anyone reads them or not my words are out there…I am out there.  That is what Lee has given me through her writing…a purpose that is just my own.  With my grandmother’s death three years ago this month, I have let go of the “must be” for the “I am”.  Ms. Lee might be gone but for me she will never be forgotten.  I hope she has found peace and is with her beloved sister.

Review: Pride and Prejudice

*Originally published 2016/02/18

When it comes to Pride and Prejudice I have read the original novel, read some retellings and sequels based on P&P, watched the black and white film to BBC’s mini-series to the Keira Knightly version, and I have seen Hollywood and Bollywood films based on the P&P premise. And, today I add the play adaption of P&P.

When I saw that the Arts Club (Vancouver, BC) was going to put on an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I knew that this was something I had to attend.  I have enjoyed almost every production the Arts Club has done that have been adapted from books, movies and other plays (The 39 Steps, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Graduate, etc).  Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors, and even though P&P is not my favourite novel it is still a classic for me.  Austen has great characters and just amazing wit.  At times P&P plays like a melodramatic love story and for me it is a true romantic-comedy. Janet Munsil’s adaptation and Sarah Rodger’s direction brings out the humour of Jane Austen’s writing and P&P’s essence.  The actors as a troop did a wonderful job in heightening the humour that the audience was not just laughing but had that amused look to them that Austen would approve of.  I had a great time and 2.5 hours went by quickly.

p&p.jpgPRIDE AND PREJUDICE Written by Jane Austen

1813, 279 Pages (Penguin Classics)

Genre: classic, romance, humour, literary

★★★1/2

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Mrs. Bennet has five unmarried of age daughters and when Mr. Bingley comes to the country she hopes his fortune will be her good fortune.  Thus begins the comedy of romance – as Jane and Mr. Bingley fall in love but have as many forces that want them separated; the Bennet heir wants to marry one – any – of the Bennet sisters but finds that no one wants to make that sacrifice; Mr. Darcy finds Lizzie tolerable and Lizzie finds Darcy insufferable; Miss. Bingley wants Darcy and her brother to marry Georgina; everyone is taken by Wickham but Darcy and Wickham is friendly to anyone but Darcy; Lydia and Kitty flirt with any man; Mary prefer books; and Charlotte is plain.  As courtships begin and end we are not sure who will be with you by the end, but we know Mrs. Bennet will try her hardest to get everyone paired off.

One of the reasons that this novel is not a five star book for me is because I am not in love with Darcy.  I find him a bit too much work.  I also find Lizzie a bit too judgmental of people so do not connect as much as I would like with her character.  Yet, I like them together and am satisfied with their story.  It is the secondary characters in this novel that makes it endearing to me – Mr. Bennet is just so lovely and I think Charlotte is the grandest friend.  I could go on about the other characters but you get the picture.  This is a love story that is more than just a romance as the wit and insights that Austen writes are just brilliant.  While I enjoy the story and would read some of the fan fiction and watch any movie adaptation it is not a reread for me.  I have read Emma a few times and want to read Sense and Sensibility again…but P&P has been read and I am done with visiting the story of P&P in that form.

The Book of Romance

*Originally published 2016/02/13

Something a little personal to celebrate Valentine’s Day

Say the words, romance novel, and you get an instant reaction.  It can be the roll of the eyes, stink face, looks of superiority or the look of stars and smiles.  I fall somewhere in between roll of the eyes and look of star and smiles, because I am a romantic at heart but realist in the brain.  I grew up with the reality of arranged marriages.  99.9% of my older relatives (grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, aunts and uncles and any one else from that generation) married because they were told to by their elders.  In those marriages a few found love, some found hell, but most found compromise.  My older cousins were set up by people and went on dates and then very soon were married.  There was romance but they don’t talk about it much. I didn’t have much personal guidance in love, romance or sex.

I grew up with a lot of movies, TV shows, soap operas, Hindi movies and every kind of book.  That was my education to love.  And what I saw was grand passion, crazy stories of getting together despite all obstacles, and having everything work out.  The man sweeps the woman off her feet, loves her no matter what and both overlook anything negative.

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great Years

SO when  I pictured my dream guy…which I did pretty early in life as I have always had this desire to find another person that gets me.  In Kindergarten I was always in the plastic house rolling my eyes when no one but me knew how “playing house” worked.  In grade one I was trying out the wedding thing by getting married at recess to almost anyone willing to do what I say.  By preteens I was crushing over whoever was cool on TV at that time.  Basically, I knew I would marry and I always knew I would find “the one.”

Sweet Valley High and University Years

Then I hit my teens, no one had asked me out since the fourth grade and I started to see it wasn’t about me and what I wanted…it was about compromise.  I have this tendency to fall for a guy who I know is out of my reach or unattainable because I don’t want to be hurt.  I’d rather be rejected right away because at that stage I can still pretend like I don’t care.  So while I read and tried to be good at school my mind was still on why wasn’t I getting my love story, even if it is the teen drama version.

Bridget Jones’s Diary Years

By my twenties I had the “I don’t care about guys and getting married or having kids” down pretty good that at times I even believed it myself.  In my late-20s to early-30s I would try dating but I was scared to take it seriously because romance equals love and me…while I was feeling like I did not have that thing in me that makes guys want to romance me.  With that kind of attitude why would they?  Now at 35 I look back and think of all the time I wasted letting my head lead my love life.

The Wallflowers Years

I know you are thinking…so romance novels are bad for women? No, they are actually good for women.  I was so busy trying to be someone I am not and trying to look smart I am not sure if it got me anywhere.  In 2010-11 (approximately) I started to read more romance – contemporary and historical.  Two people I met on Shelfari who read similar books and had the same passion for reading were recommending authors that I now enjoy.  These two women, my book soulmates, introduced me to smart romance novels (ie: not just Danielle Steel or unrealistic stories) that had storylines that really can happen.  They show heroines as smart feisty flawed women who are supported by men just as flawed.  I know, some of you want to reach out and pat me on the head…but I am okay.  I am not married with kids (yet) but I have better understanding of when it comes around.  I won’t settle for less but I am also not reach for the unattainable…I know my worth and my flaws and I am hoping that I someday to get my  Mr. Worth and Flawed.

Bottom line: Read a good romance novel where real shit happens and guess what?  (Gasp!) You have not lost any IQ points and may have learned something new…just saying.

Romantic Suspense?

*Originally published 2016/02/11

What makes a novel a romantic suspense?  Is it the balance of romance to suspense? In a way it is a balance act, though not an equal balance in my opinion. For me, a great romantic suspense (RS) novel is a suspense thriller with a romantic interest subplot.  Karen Rose is one of my favourite RS writers as she writes great characters in chilling situations but they also find love.  So far her RS books have stayed true to being more thrilling.

Then are some books posing as romantic suspense but in reality are more romance with a touch of mystery.  (The story focuses on the romance between hero and heroine, and the mystery aspect is just a plot point to move the story along).  And, by posing, I don’t mean the publishers are lying about the material, but rather they are marketing books almost incorrectly.  I think this only hurts the publishers/writers/books as readers like me are expecting electrifying novels, but instead get only a bit of action and then feel let down.  (At this time I am not going to call out these books).  I find that some authors like Nora Roberts get shafted in the marketing of their novels.  I am going to focus on Nora Roberts as I review her RS novel, The Liar.

liarTHE LIAR Written by Nora Roberts

2015; 411 Pages (Putnam Penguin)

Genre: contemporary, romance, contemporary


Ratings: ★★★★

The Liar opens with Shelby Foxworth discovering that her late husband, Richard has left her in severe debt. As she starts to sort through Richard’s belongings she discovers that her husband has been lying to her since they met. His name might not even be his real identity. As she begins to pay off most of the debt she finds there are more sinister motives behind her marriage.  Shelby cannot help but be happy her husband was lost at sea. When she pays off a big chunk of his debt she packs up her young daughter, Callie, and heads back home to her family.

Her family quickly accepts her and her daughter into the family fold but they cannot believe all the things that had been going on.  Shelby does have to gain back her best friend’s trust as she missed so many important things .  As she looks for a job and tries to make a new life she meets a new man, Griff (best friend and partner of Shelby;s best friend).  He is already loved by her whole family and now her own daughter is in love with him.  She now has to learn to trust again.  As things are going well, Shelby discovers she also has an enemy in a old schoolmate.  After all the things she has been through, can Shelby make a new happy life despite her past and new present?

I am lucky that I have a dear friend, a readaholic and a fan of Nora Roberts, so I was given a heads up on the book’s real “genre”.  After reading her very on-point review I knew going in I should read it as a contemporary romance with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Nora Roberts is an impressive writer.  She write a great suspense-mystery series (In Death) under the name of JD Robb (Lots more on JD Robb in the future!) that has over 40 books and is still going strong.  She has written romance books that define the romance genre. Roberts has written contemporary, historical and paranormal romances.  I find that I either love her books or am disappointed.  Many times that disappointment comes from how the book has been labeled.  She is strong at suspense and romance so I love when she writes RS novels.  Yet, this book lacks suspense so if you are reading it as that you will be disappointed and will miss the thing that it is strong at – romance and family drama.

I really enjoyed this book though the mystery was simple to figure out.  I enjoyed the romance between Griff and Shelby because it was sweet and stable.  The way the two interacted with other characters kept me absorbed in the story.  The secondary characters were all fabulous and at times quite humourous.  In short The Liar is a perfect contemporary romance to lose yourself in and I hope those who enjoy romance give it a shot.

Review: Cold Case Vancouver

cold caseCOLD CASE VANCOUVER: The City’s Most Baffling Unsolved Murders Written by Eve Lazarus

2015; 256 Pages (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Genre: true crime, mystery, canadian

Rating: ★★1/2

There is something about a cold case mystery.  Hearing about a cold case captures the interest of not just the family of the victims, but new investigators and also armchair detectives.  We drink up the past clues and background story hoping to find something new that will blow the case open. New forensic methodology has been one of the biggest ways to close a cold case.  New witness testimony and undiscovered clue are usually close seconds.  There is a great sense of triumph (no matter who closes the case) when the case does finally become solved.   I do enjoy a good mystery – real or not – and watching programs  about cold cases has always intrigued me.  Reading real-life mysteries for some reason gives me the shivers so I don’t read true crime as much.  As I perused the library’s “just ordered” page I saw the cover to Cold Case Vancouver and thought I would just look through the book.  After all, a book about cold cases set in Vancouver is a must.

Each chapter has a brief case study of a cold case in Vancouver from 50 years ago.  The cases are still unsolved so there is no thrill in seeing it to the end.  However, it was eye-opening to see how the cases were investigated and where and how they stalled.  Some murders seem random so have no suspects while others did but never had any concrete evidence to convict.  Lazarus meets with the family and friends of the deceased and give the readers an insight to victim behind the crime.  It was a quicker read than I first expected.  Lazarus outlines the case without “sensationalizing” it.  I do wish there had been a little more information for each case as the chapters ended just as you seemed to get into it.  I do recommend this book to fans of true crime, mysteries, cold cases and those living in Vancouver, BC.

Audio Review: Whispers

*Originally published 2016/01/26

23846081WHISPERS Written by Lisa Jackson

Narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan

1996 (reissued Oct 2015), 416 Pages (16 Hours and 15 Minutes) Kensington Books

Genre: romance, mystery, suspense


★★

Miranda, Claire and Tessa have been summoned to their family home in Lake Arrowhead, Oregon where their father announces he is running for governor, and needs their cooperation.  Their father also hires an investigator to rifle through their family secrets to see what will hurt his campaign.  Kane Moran, now a reporter, has returned home to also expose family the candidate’s secrets and what find out what really happened sixteen years ago.

Sixteen years ago – eldest daughter, Miranda is love with Hunter and is pregnant with his baby; Claire is in love with Harley and they are engaged to be married; and Tessa has given her virginity to Weston who wants to sleep with all three of the sisters, especially Miranda.  Kendall is also in love with Harley, and is in cahoots with Weston to get Harley back.  Paige, Weston and Harley’s sister, wants Harley to marry Kendall so she can have Kendall in her life.  Their parents are all having affairs with one another and not for love.  Then one night everything blows up when Harley is found dead and the three sisters were in a car accident – all on the same night.

Then we come back to the present (1996) where things s-l-o-w-l-y unfolds just how you think it would.  And, somehow the characters come together in a forced way to tie up loose ends.

This was one of those novels where I did not like a single character.  They were all selfish in their own way and not characters I would root for.  I did come to feel for Miranda and Tessa as their characters did grow and redeemed themselves (in my opinion).  They had the capacity to be strong heroines to carry the novel on their own.  I did not like Claire – or like how she turned out or find that she did anything to change my opinion on her.  And, of course, she is the heroine.  The one everyone wants to love or hate.  She has this big secret and every time the person she is keeping it from comes around, she ALWAYS has to mention that she has this secret from them, that they will hate her, and that she can’t believe they haven’t already figured it out. She also has a love interest (the hero who I also don’t care for) where the “romance” seems to pop out of nowhere, as the chemistry between them is not really there.  We hear they are in love but don’t really see it.  I enjoyed the narrator as she kept a good pace for a long drawn out story.  I felt like there was too much going on and we were in the past too much.  I didn’t think we needed whole back story as it gave away the killer right away.  I felt for this reason their wasn’t much suspense.  This book just didn’t keep my interest.  I did finish it just because I was willing to stay with the story for the author’s sake, and then got to a point where I had to finish or admit great defeat.

Rapid Poetry Review: The Road Not Taken

*Originally published 2016/01/24

orrTHE ROAD NOT TAKEN: FINDING AMERICA IN THE POEM EVERYONE LOVES AND ALMOST EVERYONE GETS WRONG Written by David Orr

2015; 192 Pages

Genre: poetry, poets, biography


Rating: ★★★1/2

Last night I picked up David Orr’s The Road Not Taken – a slim volume of Orr’s look at Frost’s most popular and beloved poem.  Orr divides the book looking at the Poet, the Poem, the Choice and the chooser.  He argues that while audiences love this poem they seem to have the meaning behind it incorrect.  Orr writes well and his arguments concise.  I read it in one sitting not because I am one of those people who have loved the poem (poet) and has been reading it incorrectly.  I recommend this to lovers of poetry and Frost.

Historical Romance Review: Her Scandalous Affair

*Originally published 2015/10/09

HER SCANDALOUS AFFAIR (standalone)

Written by Candice Hearn

2004, 384 Pages (Avon Books)

Genre: historical romance, romance, humour

Rating: ★★★★

Richard (aka Major Lord Mallory) returns home from “the wars” and finds his beloved grandfather on his deathbed. His cold non-maternal grandmother sends him on a mission to find the long-lost Mallory heart before her husband dies. At one of the social events in London he sees the brooch pinned to Lady Isabel Weymouth’s bosom. Was this socialite widow a jewel thief as well? Richard steals the brooch from Isabel (who is borrowing the jewelry from her grandmother) then Isabel steals it back the next day. So begins the game of jewel thievery but soon they don’t know if they are stealing the brooch or one anothers’s heart.

A fun historical romp sizzling with passion and a hint of mystery and action. A great read all around. Hern has as a way with dialogue and characters. Even when they were a bit cliched you still felt love or hate for them. It is a predictable story that keeps you entertained.