June Book Wrap-Up

IMG_0628Happy Summer! Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids so we are officially on summer break. The plan is to enjoy a couple weeks of downtime including chilling at the beach and pool, which is code for R-E-A-D-I-N-G. Mid-month I’m taking my kiddos to visit my parents for 3 weeks – woo hoo! We will be swimming, shopping, sewing and reading. My mom is a huge reader so I look forward to lots of book discussions with her.

I read some great books in June. It’s a toss-up between Beartown and UNSUB for my favourite. Both were amazing stories that kept me fully engaged from the first page to the last page. What are you reading this summer?

The People We Hate at the Wedding – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
The People We Hate at the Wedding is scores of family dynamics and dysfunction. It was like watching an upper echelon reality show chock-full of painful moments and endless entertainment.

The Fourth Monkey – ⭐️⭐️ / 5
The Fourth Monkey is portrayed as a cross between Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. Both movies are creepy, have disturbing aspects, literally keep you on edge but most of all stay with you. Years later you still remember those movies and may re-watch them. The Fourth Monkey has none of those attributes. It did not check off those typical suspense / thriller checkboxes for me. I am surprised because a bit of research into J.D. Barker and he has some near-award worthy books out there, unfortunately this one isn’t one of them.

Beartown – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
This book can be summarized in one word: POWERFUL! Beartown instilled emotion in me that made my heart want to explode from page one. Backman transported me into a place where I could feel the pain of every resident who inhabited Beartown, flailing on the cusp of survival but longing for so much more.

Chemistry – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Chemistry is a uniquely written story that reads like a non-fiction book. Wang’s brilliant depiction of an unnamed woman who recounts why she left a chemistry PhD program is coursely humourous. This kind of fiction writing is a departure from what I would normally pick up and read but I am so glad I ventured outside of my reading comfort zone. This book is written like a succinct diary and reads quickly so if you are looking for a book in between heavier stories this one is perfect.

Sweet Home Cowboy – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
This was my first book from the Love at the Chocolate Shop series and I thought it was a cute story. This was a pretty big variation in my reading choice. I normally don’t read romance-y books and definitely not western’s but this was light on the western romance. I thought it was entertaining and quick to read – perfect for summertime sitting poolside or at the beach.

UNSUB – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
UNSUB is the most intense and engrossing book I have read, which speaks volumes because I have read many true crime books. This book is fiction but Meg Gardiner made it feel like true crime. The story is a takeoff of the Zodiac Killer that haunted the Bay Area in the 60’s and 70’s but with a dialled up creepy factor. This book is not for the squeamish – it’s graphic and cuts to the quick, but totally suitable for any true crime lover. And the best part, a sequel is coming! This is a series I look forward to and know I will dig into.

The Secrets of Married Women – ⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Jill, Wendy and Leigh are best friends, each have very different personalities. Jill is married to Rob of 10 years, they adore each other but can’t have children because Rob is infertile. Wendy and Neil buried their baby daughter Nina and Wendy has never recovered from the loss but rarely complains and puts on a happy face. Leigh’s husband, Lawrence is a stay at home dad with OCD. He loves her dearly, would do anything for her but she no longer feels that spark with him and finds him a bit of a wuss.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
This book is super-cute! I listened to the audio book version narrated by Laura Knight Keating. Her narration is amazingly authentic as if Lara Jean herself were reading the story out loud. This book is entertaining and fast-paced making it a perfect summertime read.

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Book Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han Book ReviewTitle: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Verdict: Must read!
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Simon & Schuster: Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My Review: This book is super-cute!  I listened to the audio book version narrated by Laura Knight Keating.  Her narration is amazingly authentic as if Lara Jean herself were reading the story out loud.  This book is entertaining and fast-paced making it a perfect summertime read.

What I liked most about this story is the authenticity of it.  The Song-Covey family is a family you want to know.  They have an innocence about them that reminds you of those old television shows about families who pride themselves on good values and morals.  I thought Lara Jean was absolutely adorable.  Her mother passed away and her father is raising three daughters alone. She has a tremendous amount of respect for her father, looks up to her big sister Margot (Go-Go) and happily looks after her little sister Kitty.

Lara Jean’s most personal love letters mysteriously find their way into the hands of the very boys she wrote about. Two boys in particular, the neighbour boy Josh who is Margot’s ex-boyfriend and Peter Kavinsky. Lara Jean is mortified, as any teenager would be, and begins backpeddling to save face. She and Peter strike a deal to form a fake relationship so Lara Jean can avoid embarrassment with Josh and Peter can prove to his ex-girlfriend he’s moved on. Josh is a kind, loving, boy-next-door type whereas Peter is popular, good looking and arrogant. The relationship is awkward, as you would expect, and Peter and Lara Jean don’t much like each other in the beginning. There is a fair bit of back and forth between Lara Jean’s relationships with both Josh and Peter and I found myself flip-flopping between which boy I liked best and who was suitable for Lara Jean. I think the right decision was made in the end and you will have to read the book to find out who she chooses!

I also liked the back and forth timeline of the love story and family life. This is a story about growth and relationships. Lara Jean experiences her first kiss, the pressures of sex and drinking and the fear of disappointment from her father and Margot after a rumour runs amok.

This is a young adult novel with mature content; teenage sex and drinking, so it may not be suitable for all young audiences.

Book Review: The Secrets of Married Women

IMG_0624Title: The Secrets of Married Women
Author: Carol Mason
Publisher: Lake Union
Format: Digital ARC
Verdict: Borrow it from the library
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Lake Union Publishing: When Jill’s husband discovers he can never have children, it tears a hole in their marriage that Jill doesn’t know how to repair. Frustrated, she seeks comfort in her friends: fierce Leigh, with her high-powered career and doting family, and sweet, uncomplicated Wendy, who has a rock-solid marriage any woman would envy.

Leigh and Wendy’s lives seem perfect. But beneath the surface are secrets that could tear their friendship apart.

Leigh has grown tired of her stay-at-home husband and is looking for excitement—outside of the marriage bed. And after seventeen years of marriage, Wendy can’t shake the sense that there is something missing in her life.

As Jill is drawn deeper into her friends’ relationships, she is confronted by a temptation of her own: an intriguing stranger whose good looks and charm spark an instant connection.

Full of the realities of modern-day marriage, The Secrets of Married Women asks the question: how well can we ever know our husbands, our friends, or even ourselves?

My Review: Jill, Wendy and Leigh are best friends, each have very different personalities. Jill is married to Rob of 10 years, they adore each other but can’t have children because Rob is infertile. Wendy and Neil buried their baby daughter Nina and Wendy has never recovered from the loss but rarely complains and puts on a happy face. Leigh’s husband, Lawrence is a stay at home dad with OCD. He loves her dearly, would do anything for her but she no longer feels that spark with him and finds him a bit of a wuss.

Leigh gets a hairbrained idea to have an affair, six weeks tops and no strings attached. Lawrence isn’t cutting it anymore and she needs to rev up her sex life because life is too short. The affair creates a chain reaction that throws the lives of three families off the rails. Jill and Wendy get caught in Leigh’s crosshairs where jealousy and deceit know no boundaries.

I enjoyed this story but with mixed feelings. Leigh’s behaviour was disheartening and reminded me of the jealous best friend in high school-type who stole your other friend’s boyfriend and then talked you into destroying your relationship too. You know the type?! I sympathized with Jill because her situation was sad for both she and Rob and her behaviour motives weren’t intended to cause destruction. Despite all of the betrayal there is a small silver lining at the end.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with this digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: UNSUB

UNSUB by Meg GardinerTitle: UNSUB
Author: Meg Gardiner
Publisher: Dutton
Format: Digital ARC
Verdict: Read it!
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Dutton: A riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.

My Review: UNSUB is the most intense and engrossing book I have read, which speaks volumes because I have read many true crime books. This book is fiction but Meg Gardiner made it feel like true crime.  The story is a takeoff of the Zodiac Killer that haunted the Bay Area in the 60’s and 70’s but with a dialled up creepy factor. This book is not for the squeamish – it’s graphic and cuts to the quick, but totally suitable for any true crime lover. And the best part, a sequel is coming! This is a series I look forward to and know I will dig into.

The story takes place present day in the Bay Area. Caitlin Hendrix grew up watching her father, Mack try to take down the Zodiac Killer in the 90’s. The case was intense and consuming and shattered Mack’s life. He lost his partner at the hands of the killer, his wife left him and Caitlin nearly killed herself at fifteen. Mack never gave up trying to find the Zodiac Killer and is a hardened man for it. It was Caitlin’s calling to join the ranks where her father left off, she knows everything about the Zodiac – she helped Mack organize the gory files in the family garage. Now a fresh new detective on the scene and twenty years passed, the Zodiac is back and has his sights set on a new target. Caitlin!

This is my first Meg Gardiner read and I loved everything about this book.  The only thing keeping me from devouring it in one sitting was my kids needing me! (#momlife).  The plot had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  It never fell flat, there were no early spoilers and I felt invested in the story.  Every detail was well thought out and executed.  I literally could not wait to turn the pages.  The characters were fully developed and the images so clear in my mind. I could see a hardened Mack where life turned it’s back on him, a rattled Caitlin who carried a heavy past and a psychopathic serial killer completely void of emotion.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time and one I hope to read again.

I want to give a huge shout-out to Netgalley and Dutton for this free ARC. My review is my own.

Book Review: Sweet Home Cowboy

IMG_0619Title: Sweet Home Cowboy (Love at the Chocolate Shop #9)
Author: Marin Thomas
Publisher: Tule
Format: Digital ARC
Verdict: Read it!
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Tule: When Marietta newcomer Elena Puente is coerced into attending a speed-dating event at the popular Copper Mountain Chocolate shop, she’s blindsided by a serious attraction to local cowboy, Wesley Banks.

Still recovering from a broken engagement, the first-grade teacher from Las Vegas isn’t looking for romance. She’s in Montana to get to know the great-grandfather she never knew existed until she found some hidden family letters. Judge Kingsley is a grouchy recluse and he’s far from welcoming, but Elena is determined to stay in town long enough to give his neglected estate on Bramble Lane a facelift.

Elena’s resolve to avoid romance is tested when she discovers Wesley is the caretaker of her grandfather’s rural property. Soon, she and the cowboy are attending more speed-dating events at the chocolate shop and she’s seeking his advice on how to deal with his ornery boss. Local gossips wager the old Judge will run Elena out of town before anything serious develops between her and Wesley. But Wesley’s a determined man, too, and he’s betting Elena belongs in Marietta forever…with him.

My Review: This was my first book from the Love at the Chocolate Shop series and I thought it was a cute story. This was a pretty big variation in my reading choice.  I normally don’t read romance-y books and definitely not western’s but this was light on the western romance. I thought it was entertaining and quick to read – perfect for summertime sitting poolside or at the beach.

I really liked Elena, the tenacious great-granddaughter of stubborn old Judge. Her persistence in forging a relationship with the man she only recently learned about was admirable. And then there’s Wes, the good looking cowboy who with the help of Judge turned himself around and helps the local kids fly right. Elena and Wes meet at the Copper Mountain Chocolate shop speed dating event. The attraction between them is immediate and fierce but Elena isn’t in town for romance and they both want different things from a relationship. Elena is a Grade 1 teacher and after caring for kids all day long doesn’t believe she would have anything left to give a child of her own. Wes, on the other hand, wants children.

Small town life in Marietta, Montana is quite different from the bustle of Las Vegas and Elena isn’t accustomed to everyone knowing her business. The story is flanked by plenty of local color from Sandra, the boutique owner and neighbour of the Judge’s, who has a crush on him, to Rosie at the chocolate shop and finally the DJ at the local radio station who tells all of Marietta that Elena is in town.

I enjoyed Sweet Home Cowboy. It was a refreshing change of pace and an uplifting story. I was rooting for Elena and Wes to live happily ever after from the start. Did I get my wish? You will have to read the book for yourself! I look forward to reading more from Love at the Chocolate Shop series.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tule Publishing for giving me a free ARC in exchange for my own unbiased review.

Book Review: Chemistry

Chemistry by Weike Wang Book ReviewTitle: Chemistry
Author: Weike Wang
Publisher: Knopf
Format: Ebook
Verdict: Read it
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Knopf: Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research–and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry–one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

My Review: Chemistry is a uniquely written story that reads like a non-fiction book. Wang’s brilliant depiction of an unnamed woman who recounts why she left a chemistry PhD program is coursely humourous. This kind of fiction writing is a departure from what I would normally pick up and read but I am so glad I ventured outside of my reading comfort zone. This book is written like a succinct diary and reads quickly so if you are looking for a book in between heavier stories this one is perfect.

The main character reaches a boiling point in her academic career and walks away from the program when she fails to make the leap from technician to scientist. She suffers a breakdown and her boyfriend, Eric, who keeps asking her to marry him, and she repeatedly puts him off, suggests she seek professional help. During her counselling sessions, with ‘the shrink’, the character takes us thru her upbringing as an only child of Chinese immigrant parents, their own personal struggles coming to the United States and the high expectations they placed on her. She wonders what it is like growing up in Eric’s family having your mother slip notes of encouragement into your lunch box every day in contrast to her dysfunctional family. Her parents do not get along with each other, often throw things in the house and show her no compassion and understanding.

What I really enjoyed about this book is how the main character’s ramblings are random but purposeful. They are humourously dry, totally factual and every bit entertaining. What I found unique is Wang’s decision to name only one character in the story, Eric, and everyone else was a descriptor; the shrink, the best friend, the lab mate, the dog. I can only speculate that Wang did this to drive home the importance Eric was to the unnamed woman.

The ending was abrupt and I would have liked to see where the unnamed woman’s future took her but overall it was an enjoyable read.

 

Book Review: Beartown

Beartown by Fredrik Backman Book ReviewTitle: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Format: Purchased Book
Verdict: Must Read!!
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Simon & Schuster: People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

My Review: This book can be summarized in one word: POWERFUL!  Beartown instilled emotion in me that made my heart want to explode from page one. Backman transported me into a place where I could feel the pain of every resident who inhabited Beartown, flailing on the cusp of survival but longing for so much more.

I loved everything about this story. Being a hockey fan is not required but being empathetic is. The characters are so real and defined. I put myself in their shoes. I ached for them. I understood them. Their struggles were harrowing and in a small hockey town full of team pride the struggles of loyalty, integrity, politics, sexual orientation and rape are magnified.

Set in a small, Swedish town within a forest buried nine months of the year under snowfall, the climate is harsh but it’s residents are harsher. Happiness is hard to come by and hinged on teenaged boys winning the hockey semi-finals finally putting Beartown on the map. But that victory never happens. Accusations are made and the town implodes, people that have known each other a lifetime turn their backs on one another.

This book is about a dying hockey town desperately trying to hold itself together, protect its hockey team during a dark time and just survive. Just survive: two words spoken over and over throughout the book.

Beartown is a heavy story encountering rape, injustice, homophobia, bullying and racism. But amidst the weight this is also an uplifting and inspirational novel.  As soon as I finished the final page I was flooded with emotions, especially for four characters: Kira, Maya, Benji and Amat – long live the fearless and strong bear inside of them.