Book Review: Need to Know

A5B73AE4-B856-422A-91DC-D34D777BD440Title: Need to Know
Author: Karen Cleveland
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: January 23, 2018

From Doubleday: Vivian and Matt are a seemingly normal suburban couple, experiencing the same struggles as many North American families: juggling work and children, budgeting for a house in a decent school district. They’re in love and life is good. Though Vivian can’t share much about her CIA assignment with him, Matt has always been supportive, and his job as a software engineer allows him the flexibility needed to raise their four kids. But when she makes a startling discovery researching the CIA’s Russian account, everything about her life and her marriage is cast in a new light–forcing her to make impossible and dangerous choices before she loses her job, her family and her life.

I received a free advanced copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my own review. #partner #penguincanada

My Review: NEED TO KNOW has high ratings and top author accolades so I’m in the minority with my review. This is a super-charged CIA / espionage read with an intense premise. When Vivian uncovers a Russian spy ring on U.S. soil she’s on the precipice of danger and losing her career and family.

The good: I love a good CIA spy novel. This one is plot driven with a female lead who I can relate to as a wife and mom. Cleveland cleverly delivers a major wallop in Chapter 2 and I absolutely needed to know more!

The bad: The characters were thinly developed. Vivian has a kick-ass career. It’s not every day I meet a CIA analyst, especially one uncovering Russian sleeper cells so I think Cleveland missed the mark on the main character and narrator of the story. Also, Vivian is ridiculously naive in her personal life yet incredibly savvy professionally which didn’t add up for me.

It was an entertaining enough read and paced quickly enough with short chapters to keep me engaged. The ending was a cliffhanger and left me wondering if there will be a sequel.

 

 

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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.

Book Review: Things That Happened Before The Earthquake

IMG_0838Title: Things That Happened Before The Earthquake
Author: Chiara Barzini
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: Library
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Doubleday: Mere weeks after the 1992 riots that laid waste to Los Angeles, Eugenia, a typical Italian teenager, is rudely yanked from her privileged Roman milieu by her hippie-ish filmmaker parents and transplanted to the strange suburban world of the San Fernando Valley. With only the Virgin Mary to call on for guidance as her parents struggle to make it big, Hollywood fashion, she must navigate her huge new public high school, complete with Crips and Bloods and Persian gang members, and a car-based environment of 99-cent stores and obscure fast-food franchises and all-night raves. She forges friendships with Henry, who runs his mother’s movie memorabilia store, and the bewitching Deva, who introduces her to the alternate cultural universe that is Topanga Canyon. And then the 1994 earthquake rocks the foundations not only of Eugenia’s home but of the future she’d been imagining for herself.

My Review: I fell in love with THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE from the get-go! The story opens up with Eugenia’s parents and grandmother sunbathing nude on a beach in Malibu – yes, you read that right! I was a teenager coming of age in the 1990’s and Barzini captures the people and culture during this toilsome time to a T – LA riots, O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, and the Northridge earthquake.

Plucked from her quaint and cozy life in Rome, Eugenia’s hippy parents moved to LA to get rich and famous after a successful bout in a Spam Italy commercial. Her dreams of living in Hollywood are quickly snubbed when they roll up to their new house in “barrio Nuys” as the cabbie calls it. Another sign Eugenia adds to her list of why moving to LA is a bad omen. And it’s these experiences that lend both a sentimental and funny basis to the story.

An awkward and naive Eugenia, who looks to the Virgin Mary as her role model and calls on for advice, navigates her way around superficial and inward looking peers in school and a culture of wanting to fit in, gang violence, sex and drugs. Feeling dejected Eugenia puts on her figurative ‘rubber suit’ and turns to sex and drugs to cope. She befriends a disabled agoraphobic guy from a failing movie memorabilia shop who supplies her with drugs. It isn’t until Eugenia returns to Italy that first summer that she realizes her connection to her homeland is lost. And back in LA she enters into a bizarre sex and drug filled relationship with an alluring girl living in a hippie commune in the hills.

I think this book is perfect for those coming of age in the 1990’s because the events and culture are so relatable but equally enjoyable also for anyone looking for a poignant and humorous view of this decade.

 

Book Review: The Goddesses

IMG_0761Title: The Goddesses
Author: Swan Huntley
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Doubleday: When Nancy and her family arrive in Kona, Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy’s husband has cheated on her; they sleep in separate bedrooms and their twin sons have been acting out, setting off illegal fireworks. But Hawaii is paradise: they plant an orange tree in the yard; they share a bed once again and Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. Ana has short, black hair, a warm smile, and a hard-won wisdom that resonates deeply within Nancy. They are soon spending all their time together, sharing dinners, relaxing in Ana’s hot tub, driving around Kona in the cute little car Ana helps Nancy buy. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana—skipping family dinners and leaving the twins to their own devices she feels a happiness and understanding unlike anything she’s ever experienced, and she knows that she will do anything Ana asks of her. A mesmerizing story of friendship and manipulation set against the idyllic tropical world of the Big Island, The Goddesses is a stunning psychological novel by one of our most exciting young writers.

My Review: I always love a good family theatrics read and THE GODDESSES did not disappoint! I was sucked in from the get go because I can relate to Nancy’s need to find her purpose in a new place as a stay at home mom, which isn’t always easy.

THE GODDESSES is flanked by a cast of unlikable characters but I couldn’t put this book down because they are a captivating bunch and I needed to know what was coming around every bend – and there are many! Ana is an outwardly sick, twisted and disgusting person. She preys on Nancy’s marital discord and vulnerability and takes things waaaay too far with her son’s.

I was mesmerized by the backdrop of the Big Island, Hawaii – sitting in the jacuzzi and listening to the waves crashing, yoga under the sun and the references made about Costco – because I’m a frequent Costco shopper!

This is my first Huntley book and her writing is brilliant! The storyline is not unique but the characters are rich  – each has an underlying story of their own which makes them so real and relatable. And the twisty plot made me devour this book in just a couple of days.

Summer Reading List 2017

This is a loosely curated list of books I think are great summer reads covering several genres.  Some of these books I have already read and highly recommend to you, others are from my extensive to-be-read (TBR) list which I’m excited to read and a few will be published this summer.

It is likely this summer book list will continue evolving throughout the summer.  As I read new books that I think are summer-worthy reads I will add them here so please check back!

UNSUB by Meg GardinerTitle: UNSUB (review coming soon!)
Author: Meg Gardiner
Genre: Suspense & Thriller | Crime Mystery
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
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.

The Forever Summer by Jamie BrennerTitle: The Forever Summer
Author: Jamie Brenner
Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
From Little, Brown and Company: When a DNA test reveals long-buried secrets, three generations of women reunite on Cape Cod for the homecoming of a lifetime.

The Arrangement by Sarah DunnTitle: The Arrangement
Author: Sarah Dunn
Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
From Little, Brown and Company: A hilarious and emotionally charged novel about a couple who embark on an open marriage-what could possibly go wrong?

Dark Matter by Blake CrouchTitle: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Suspense & Thriller | Science Fiction
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
From Crown Publishing: – “Are you happy with your life?”

 

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin KwanTitle: China Rich Girlfriend
Author: Kevin Kwan
Genre: Fiction – Women’s
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
From Knofp Doubleday: From the bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians comes a deliciously fun story of family, fortune, and fame in Mainland China.

Bear Town by Fredrik BackmanTitle: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Fiction – Literary, Humourous
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
From Atria Books: 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…

Ginny Moon by Benjamin LudwigTitle: Ginny Moon
Author: Benjamin Ludwig
Genre: Fiction – Coming of Age, Family Life, Literary
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
From Park Row Books: Ginny Moon is an illuminating look at one girl’s journey to find her way home. In this stunning debut, Benjamin Ludwig gives a voice to the voiceless, reminding us that often we only hear those who speak the loudest, and there’s much to be learned by opening up our ears and our hearts.

The Rosie Project by Graeme SimsionTitle: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Genre: Fiction – Romance, Humourous
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
From Simon & Schuster: The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers…

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen WaiteTitle: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing
Author: Jen Waite
Genre: Biography & Memoir | Psychology
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
From Penguin Random House: What do you do when you discover that the person you’ve built your life around never existed? When “it could never happen to me” does happen to you?

The Hatching by Ezekiel BooneTitle: The Hatching
Author: Ezekiel Boone
Genre: Science Fiction | Suspense | Horror
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
From Atria Books: An astonishingly inventive and terrifying debut novel about the emergence of an ancient species, dormant for over a thousand years, and now on the march.

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan Book ReviewTitle: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Format: Library eBook
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

Crazy Rich Asians is hilarious, totally shallow and rife with Asian stereotypes as only Kevin Kwan can funnily depict. The story follows three wealthy Chinese families, the Youngs, Shangs and T’Siens. I personally liked the footnotes describing Hokkien words sprinkled throughout the story – Chuppie anyone?! I cannot wait to read the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend!

I want to be upfront this story has a huge cast of characters, so much so that Kwan supplies a simplified family tree. But don’t let that bother you because this isn’t one of those super in depth novels where you need to go back and re-read to understand the story. There are only a handful of main characters flanked by a larger group of supporting characters.

The story opens up with Nicholas Young inviting Rachel Chu to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding (THE wedding of the year!) in Singapore followed by bumming around Asia for the summer. Nicholas and Rachel are both professors at NYU and have dated nearly two years. Nicholas hasn’t told Rachel about his super-wealthy family and doesn’t think it will change anything between them. The red carpet is rolled out when they board the airplane to Singapore and Rachel is in awe. Nick’s family is skeptical of Rachel’s intentions and have dubbed her as ABC (American Born Chinese) with mainland China peasantry roots. Rachel is surprised by the cold reception she receives from Nick’s family and Nick is oblivious of it until it’s too late.

I found this story fast-paced and very entertaining. There were a lot of jaw-dropping moments – the gobs of money spent as a status symbol, the values placed on money and family control. But interspersed within the story is a valuable lesson about marriage – it should never be for money!