Book Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

05EE8F67-9BDE-4A73-A404-A9A6E4DA9DCBTitle: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Publisher: HMH
Publication Date: October 3, 2017

From HMH: A modern classic in the making reminiscent of the Penderwicks series, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is about the connections we make and the unexpected turns life can take.
The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home.

Netgalley and HMH provided me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is THE middle grade book of the year! I received an advanced copy from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review and am so glad I requested this book. My husband and I took turns reading to our daughters for bedtime reading making it a lovely family affair. My only regret is reading it in October when it’s so perfect for the holiday season.
The Vanderbeekers are a charming and quintessential family – a diverse family of seven with the most adorable pets, a dog named Franz, a cat named George Washington and a bunny named Paganini. They live in a brownstone in Harlem amongst a close community. The Vanderbeekers have always lived in their beloved brownstone but when their lease is threatened by their awful landlord, The Biederman, the children come together to roll out their most creative and resourceful selves to appease The Biederman. A heart-wrenching event tests their empathy and compassion which made me love the Vanderbeekers so much.
My kids are gifting this book for friends’ birthdays because it belongs in the hands of every middle grade child (and adults too!). I cannot wait for the sequel in 2018!

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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.

Book Review: The Fourth Monkey

IMG_0528Title: The Fourth Monkey
Author: J.D. Barker
Publisher: HMH
Format: Netgalley Digital ARC
Verdict: 50 / 50 – Borrow it from the library
Rating: ⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs when a notorious serial killer is hit by a bus while delivering his signature message, leaving detective Sam Porter days to locate the last victim using clues from the killer’s disturbing diary, words that taunt Sam—even from beyond the grave.

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

My Review: 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.

This book was not a write-off for me, it did have some redeeming qualities. Most notably Barker is a great writer. His style flows and is engaging. I enjoy his use of alternating narrators, which is popular right now. This style works well for me because I need to know the character(s) before I can decide whether I like them or not. I also like reading different perspectives because each character has something different to bring to the story. I think it adds a crucial element and dynamic to a story instead of one flat perspective.

The Fourth Monkey alternates between Sam Porter’s present day investigation searching for the final victim to flashbacks of the 4MK’s diary. This is where the story went off the rails for me. The plot was weak – typical serial killer situation but the killer is already dead at the opening of the book so the super scary factor is already removed from the story. That’s 95% of what makes a suspense book suspenseful; not knowing who the killer is, his M.O., when he is going to strike, etc. The part that really turned me off was the 4MK diary. I found it totally absurd. In keeping my review spoiler-free I will not go into details but I will say that nearly every serial killer has a twisted past but this one takes the cake – its bizarre-o!

My threshold for serial killer / crime genre books is fairly hard core so this book did not do a whole lot for me but it would be a good choice for someone that is not into super scary reads.

Thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a free ARC of The Fourth Monkey. My review is my own.