Book Review: Bellevue Square

A1090981-435B-41DD-8120-DBE40BCD0A75Title: Bellevue Square
Author: Michael Redhill
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️💫

From Doubleday: Jean Mason has a doppelganger. She’s never seen her, but others swear they have. Apparently, her identical twin hangs out in Kensington Market, where she sometimes buys churros and drags an empty shopping cart down the streets, like she’s looking for something to put in it. Jean’s a grown woman with a husband and two kids, as well as a thriving bookstore in downtown Toronto, and she doesn’t rattle easily—not like she used to. But after two customers insist they’ve seen her double, Jean decides to investigate.

She begins at the crossroads of Kensington Market: a city park called Bellevue Square. Although she sees no one who looks like her, it only takes a few visits to the park for her to become obsessed with the possibility of encountering her twin in the flesh. With the aid of a small army of locals who hang around in the park, she expands her surveillance, making it known she’ll pay for information or sightings. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants—the regulars of Bellevue Square—are eager to contribute to Jean’s investigation. But when some of them start disappearing, she fears her alleged double has a sinister agenda. Unless Jean stops her, she and everyone she cares about will face a fate much stranger than death.

Thank you to PRH Canada for this free arc in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: What would you do if you learned you had a doppelgänger, everyone has seen her but you and she may be on a murderous rampage? In BELLEVUE SQUARE Jean Mason has just seen her twin, Ingrid Fox at a possible murder scene of her friend, Katerina. Katerina was tasked with getting Ingrid to meet Jean at the Bellevue Square park. Jean’s husband is sceptical of all her time spent chasing down Ingrid and thinks she is reverting back to needing mental intervention and medicating again.

A bizarre plot twist leaves Jean hospitalized under the care of a psychiatrist. She is diagnosed with autoscopy and undergoes surgery, medicating and observation. The story sort of lost me from this point on and the ending felt strangely unfinished.

Bellevue Square is short listed for the Giller Prize. This is my first Redhill book and while I enjoyed his writing – he has a penchant for literary fiction, unfortunately this book is not for me. I never connected with the plot and characters and struggled to get through it.

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Book Review: Most Wanted

9B7895B8-7FC3-47E6-8F39-8A74B86A2727Title: Most Wanted
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: September 12, 2016
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From St. Martin’s: Christine Nilsson and her husband, Marcus, are desperate for a baby. Unable to conceive, they find themselves facing a difficult choice they had never anticipated. After many appointments with specialists, endless research, and countless conversations, they make the decision to use a donor.

Two months pass, and Christine is happily pregnant. But one day, she is shocked to see a young blond man on the TV being arrested for a series of brutal murders—and the blond man bears an undeniable and uncanny resemblance to her donor.

Delving deeper to uncover the truth, Christine must confront a terrifying reality and face her worst fears. Riveting and fast-paced, with the depth of emotionality that has garnered Lisa Scottoline legions of fans, Most Wanted poses an ethical and moral dilemma: What would you do if the biological father of your unborn child was a killer?

My Review: This is my first Lisa Scottoline book and it won’t be my last! The premise of MOST WANTED is one of the freakiest I’ve ever read – a loving couple uses a donor to become pregnant and learns he may be a serial killer. The laws protecting donors’ identity prevent Christine and Marcus from learning whether the man in custody is their donor, number 3319, Zachary Jeffcoat.

What would you do if you learned the child you are carrying has a fifty percent chance of harbouring disturbing mental traits? Would you love your child any less or feel differently than if they were born with a physical disability? These are the questions Christine and Marcus ask themselves. And their answers to these questions create a rift between them sending Christine down a dangerous path behind Marcusses back. She decides to go straight to the source and visit Zachary Jeffcoat in maximum security prison.

Jeffcoat doesn’t seem like a serial killer – he’s handsome, charming and smart and professes his innocence. Christine wants to believe this man, the biological father of her baby is innocent but the evidence is stacked against him. When another murder unfolds Christine digs deeper getting mixed up in a multilayer plot with twists and turns. Can she save her marriage and uncover the real serial killer?

This is a fast-paced thriller facing moral and ethical delimmas that will keep you turning the pages, or in my case listening every spare moment.

Book Review: The Lost Ones

D3951E3F-2037-44CF-85ED-B41A9EC200FFTitle: The Lost Ones
Author: Sheena Kamal
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From William Morrow: A dark, compulsively readable psychological suspense debut, the first in a new series featuring the brilliant, fearless, chaotic, and deeply flawed Nora Watts—a character as heartbreakingly troubled, emotionally complex, and irresistibly compelling as Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole.
It begins with a phone call that Nora Watts has dreaded for fifteen years—since the day she gave her newborn daughter up for adoption. Bonnie has vanished. The police consider her a chronic runaway and aren’t looking, leaving her desperate adoptive parents to reach out to her birth mother as a last hope.
A biracial product of the foster system, transient, homeless, scarred by a past filled with pain and violence, Nora knows intimately what happens to vulnerable girls on the streets. Caring despite herself, she sets out to find Bonnie with her only companion, her mutt Whisper, knowing she risks reopening wounds that have never really healed—and plunging into the darkness with little to protect her but her instincts and a freakish ability to detect truth from lies.
The search uncovers a puzzling conspiracy that leads Nora on a harrowing journey of deception and violence, from the gloomy rain-soaked streets of Vancouver, to the icy white mountains of the Canadian interior, to the beautiful and dangerous island where she will face her most terrifying demon. All to save a girl she wishes had never been born.

My Review: I am fairly certain that I am a bit biased in my review of THE LOST ONES because I live in Vancouver, which is the primary setting for this stellar debut. When you know the references about the city you live in it’s easy to get caught up in the action and fully invest yourself in a book and that’s what happened to me right from the start.

Nora Watts’ has an ugly past. She was brutally attacked and left for dead and pregnant with a child she never wanted. Fifteen years later Bonnie has run away and her adoptive parents reach out to Nora to help find Nora’s biological daughter. The police are little help and Nora sets out on her own to find Bonnie. She discovers the men in sedans watching her are not the cops and what seems like scare tactics upfront quickly lead to a dangerous chase from the rainy streets of Vancouver to its harsh winter counterpart in the interior.

Nora struggles to piece together the ties binding a teenage runaway to a group of thugs and the voice she heard fifteen years ago when she was left for dead resurfaces. The connection is bigger than she ever imagined and filled with conspiracy, betrayal and life and death. The first book in the Nora Watts Series proves it’s weight as a debut suspenseful thriller.

Book Review: From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

273CA794-CE9C-43E1-8C5D-E9554330853CTitle: From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 2007 (originally published in 1967)
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From Simon & Schuster: When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere she wants to run to somewhere—to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and preferably elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother, Jamie, has money and thus can help her with the serious cash flow problem she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie, find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at an auction for a bargain price of $250. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn’t it? Claudia is determined to find out. This quest leads Claudia to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

My Review: FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER is a testament of timeless literature and it’s no surprise sealed itself a Newbery Award and still a favourite among both children and adults fifty years later.

I immediately fell in love with Claudia and Jamie. Their plan to run away and take up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and learn alongside the visiting school groups exudes creativity and yearning for knowledge alongside their financial savviness and street smarts sucked me into this unique story.

The brief afterward is every bit as good as the story itself. The comparisons between then and now are thought provoking and nostalgic.

This story is good old fashioned literature at its finest and a book that should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Book Review: The Stolen Marriage

7A8A527B-F660-4369-817E-3BF251CFC265Title: The Stolen Marriage
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From St. Martin’s Press: In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?

I won a copy of this arc in a giveaway sponsored by Goodreads and St. Martin’s Press. All opinions are my own.

My Review: THE STOLEN MARRIAGE took me completely and utterly by surprise in a very good way. To be upfront I didn’t know anything about this book and thought I was going into a thriller / suspense story. Instead I was fully engrossed in rich history, intrigue and mystery flanked by elaborate characters and complex topics significant to World War II and southern living.

Tess and Vincent grew up as neighbors in Little Italy, Baltimore, Maryland and always knew they would marry. Engaged and planning their wedding, Vincent was busy carving out his medical career while Tess finished up her nursing studies. A weekend away with her girlfriend lands Tess inebriated, in bed with another man and pregnant. Scared, ashamed and her future with Vincent derailed, Tess sets off to seek financial support from Henry but Henry proposes marriage to provide a family for his unborn child.

Tess never imagined the life she would sign onto upon accepting Henry’s proposal. Moving to a small town in the south where she is seen as trapping Henry, Tess lives under the watchful eyes of Ruth and Lucy, Henry’s mother and sister. She’s not welcomed into their lives nor accepted and she’s in a loveless marriage with a man who isn’t attracted to her.

What lies ahead are deception, secrets, compassion, morality and surprising plot twists. While this isn’t a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, it is poignant and captivating and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Book Review: Why Mummy Drinks

IMG_0902Title: Why Mummy Drinks
Author: Gill Sims
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: October 19, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 / 5

From Harper Collins: It is Mummy’s 39th birthday. She is staring down the barrel of a future of people asking if she wants to come to their advanced yoga classes, and polite book clubs where everyone claims to be tiddly after a glass of Pinot Grigio and says things like ‘Oooh gosh, are you having another glass?’
But Mummy does not want to go quietly into that good night of women with sensible haircuts who ‘live for their children’ and stand in the playground trying to trump each other with their offspring’s extracurricular activities and achievements, and boasting about their latest holidays.
Instead, she clutches a large glass of wine, muttering ‘FML’ over and over again. Until she remembers the gem of an idea she’s had…

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this free arc in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Mom’s who feel undervalued, overworked and spread thin will love and relate to WHY MUMMY DRINKS, a laugh out loud story about an exhausted mom who loves her husband and her children dearly but needs a drink (or two) to see her through.

Ellen is like so many mom’s out there. She’s taken a lesser profile job to cut childcare costs and be available for her children. She dreams about what a perfect day looks like – breakfast made to order for her beloved Peter and Jane, dishes done, house tidy and a delicious dinner put into the slow cooker. But, instead her day goes like this: oversleep, throw cereal in front of children for breakfast, rush out the door dragging the kids and dog to school, argue with kids after school about everything and realize you forgot to turn on the slow cooker at 5:30pm. Drink wine.

There were so many laugh out loud moments but one is most memorable for me. Ellen’s husband Simon’s off-the-grid, hippy sister announces her family will drive down for Christmas and crash with Ellen and Simon. It will be lovely for her six children to visit their cousins! Over the span of their visit Ellen will endure Louisa (Amaris – her goddess name) breastfeeding all six of her children, two of the children won’t use the toilet, one uses the floor and the other the garden and Amaris whipping up the nastiest smoothie (trust me on this one!) that her husband Bardo contributes to. Oh and Ellen’s self absorbed sister invites her family too and fusses over bringing Christmas pudding. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without your dearest friends so Ellen invites her besties, Sam and Hannah – the more the merrier!

This is a light-hearted and humorous take on everyday life as a mom and wife. There are high moments and low moments but after every moment it seems there’s always room for a drink.

 

Book Review: Sourdough

IMG_0929Title: Sourdough
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: MCD / Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From FSG: Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.

When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

My Review: SOURDOUGH is the most unique book I’ve read to date. A magnificent marriage between software robotics and sourdough starter. The concept is so far out that it’s brilliant!

When Lois inherits the sourdough starter from her favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant complete with instructions to feed it and grow it she never imagined the new life she and her starter would take on.  Lois feeds the starter and plays music to it and in return the starter sings and gurgles and produces loaf after loaf of delicious sourdough bread loved by her friends and co-workers.

Soon the high demands of her engineering job get in the way of her sourdough production and Lois must choose between her well paid, intense career where she’s overworked and plagued with an unhealthy gut or design a robotic arm to make her beloved sourdough bread.

SOURDOUGH is charming, soul-warming and makes me wish I had my very own starter culture to dote over and bake bread from.