Book #Review: Manipulated Lives by H. A. Leuschel

I don’t normally read short stories and novellas, but when this book came to my attention the timing and subject matter seemed too coincidental to pass up. Each of the five stories stood alone and yet remained connected through an overarching theme. I have no doubt that these novellas will be relatable to almost anyone, even if they haven’t been the victim of a manipulative personality, as we have all come across at least one at some point in our lives.



manipulatedTitle: 
Manipulated Lives

Author: H. A. Leuschel

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: June 8, 2016

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

Themes: Abusive Relationships, Independence, Manipulative Personalities

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Five stories – Five Lives.

Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.


My Review

Whew! I needed to take a break after reading this one. Although the stories are short, they cary a heavy impact, with each showing a different facet of master manipulators. Each of the protagonists are so unique and well defined that the tales never run the risk of sounding like they are repeating one another, and of the five I was most touched by Holly in The Runaway Girl. Of all the characters, she is the only one who likely wasn’t old enough or worldly enough to know that such people could exist. My heart really went out to her, especially since she was dealing with trauma in her romantic life as well as at home with her family.

Tess and Tattoos, The Spell, and The Perfect Child also demonstrate the ways in which manipulators work their ways into people’s lives, how they select and control their victims, and also the lasting impact that these encounters can have. The stream of consciousness style of writing really highlights just how easily certain behaviours become normalized, and how common it is for victims to defend their abusers. Finally, it was a shocking experience to read from the abuser’s point of view in The Narcissist, mostly because I could never view another person as an object or disposable. Of the five, this is the story that made me the most uncomfortable and I think forces the greatest degree of introspection when it comes to our interactions with others.

It is clear that a great degree of research went into the creation of these novellas as each character was so well defined and believable. I think that this would be an excellent selection for book clubs as there is so much to talk about. And, knowing full well that I will likely encounter push back from some parents and colleagues, I am strongly recommending the study of The Runaway Girl in our school as it touches on topics that seriously need talking about and not brushing under the rug.

Would I recommend this book? Certainly, but I do so knowing that it won’t be for everyone. It makes you uncomfortable in the all right ways, but I can see that there would be some readers where the reliability of the characters will hit too close to home.

P.S. This is Leuschel’s first work of fiction, and in having seen how her characters turn out, I would be first in line if she ever put of psychological thriller – that would be dark and twisty stuff!


Many thanks to Helene Leuschel for providing a copy of her collection in exchange for an honest review.

Early #Review: The Canary Club by Sherry D. Ficklin

I love YA fiction, there’s no two ways about it. But what I love more than YA fiction, is YA fiction that I read as an adult and completely forget that both the characters and audience are teens. This is that book. Now add in the fact that it’s set in prohibition era New York, dripping with drama, and packed to gills with both character building and action and you’ve got this reviewer dithering on forever.



canaryTitle:
The Canary Club

Author: Sherry D. Ficklin

Publisher: Crimson Tree Publishing

Expected Publication Date: October 19, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teens & YA

Themes: Family, Murder, Great Depression, Prohibition

Features: Book Club Discussion Guide


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

“Bad Luck” Benny is a fella from the wrong side of the tracks. Recently released from jail, he has vowed to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. But he also needs to care for his ailing sister and the rest of his struggling family, and he’ll do anything to make that happen—even if it means taking a position with a notorious crime boss. He soon finds himself in over his head—and worse still—falling for the one dame on earth he should be staying away from.

Masie is the daughter of a wealthy gangster with the voice of an angel and gun smoke in her veins. Strong-willed but trapped in a life she never wanted, she dreams of flying free from the politics and manipulation of her father. A pawn in her family’s fight for control of the city, and with a killer hot on her heels, she turns to the one person who just might be able to spring her from her gilded cage. But Masie is no angel, and her own dark secrets may come back to burn them both.

Two worlds collide in this compelling story of star-crossed lovers in gritty prohibition-era New York.


My Review

If I had to pick only one book to read this fall it would be The Canary Club. There is no review that I can write that can share the pure joy I got from reading this beauty. Benny and Masie were so likeable and well written that I quickly forgot that I was reading a YA novel, and the mature content that this tale covers (rape, teen delinquency, abusive parents, sexual desire, etc.) really gives credit to interests and maturity levels of it’s YA audience. Without question, I think that this is one of those rare titles that effortlessly defies categorization and can be easily enjoyed by adults and teen readers alike.

I was enraptured with the New York prohibition era setting. Everything from the buildings to the clothing and makeup was described in beautiful detail, but the writing was such that these details never once felt cumbersome. The alternation between Masie’s and Benny’s points of view worked incredibly well, and showcased how there are always two sides to every story and that things aren’t always what they seem. The balance between action and character building kept the pace quick and engaging while breathing life into some incredibly realistic and well rounded characters.

While I enjoyed the fact that Benny could be an ex-con and a good person, it was Masie’s story that really stole the show. It was refreshing to see an abused character, and her abuser, presented so honestly. From Dutch’s violent outbursts to his gift giving, and from Masie’s need to protect her father to her feelings of repression and need to escape, all fit perfectly together. It reminded me how often I take for granted the choices I have been allowed to make regarding the course of my own life including education, romantic partner, and field of employment – I can only hope that it inspires the same degree of introspection from all it’s readers.

Now, on the to life of crime that pulls our two heroes together – Prohibition bootlegging! Crime families, banned booze, hitmen with personal vendettas, and covering up murder all makes for an excellent plot. I really enjoyed descriptions of the clubs, the grandeur of the mob family lifestyle, and the inclusion of iconic Jazz songs in the story. Now add in a forbidden romance and you get quite the complicated climax. I wasn’t expecting the ending to be so exciting and detailed, but it was so dang good. For anyone who loves crime and suspense thrillers I have no doubt that you will be pleased with how this one comes together. It was so good I read it twice… in the same night. I have no regrets.

Would I recommend this book? YES! A million times over yes. I don’t care if you read YA, are a YA reader, or simply enjoy historical fiction and a little excitement this book is sure to please! I am so glad that The Canary Club comes with a book club discussion guide too, because it is worth talking about and hits on some really big and really important topics. Librarian, add this one to your YA collections this fall, and parents, you might but this one for your book loving teens – but I can guarantee that you’re going to read it (and love it) too!


Many thanks to Sherry D. Ficklin and Crimson Tree Publishing for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book #Review: Before I Left by Daisy White

I love Brighton, so when I came across Before I Left I couldn’t resist picking up a murder mystery set in one of my favourite summer destinations. Fun, flirty, and filled with joy de vivre Before I Left is the perfect balance between mystery, romance, and occult drama. This sweet little thriller hits shelves tomorrow (July 20, 2017), so don’t miss out!



before I leftTitle: 
Before I Left

Author: Daisy White

Publisher: Joffe Books

Publication Date: July 20, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Murder Mystery

Themes: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Independence

Features: Glossary of Terms


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

A LONG HOT SUMMER, A CITY BY THE SEA, AND A SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE.

Nineteen-year-old runaway Ruby Baker and pregnant best friend Mary escape domestic violence in London to find a new home in Brighton. They join a glitzy set of party girls, who are hell-bent on enjoying themselves in the new freedom of the 1960s.

But their new life soon comes under threat. Someone is watching Ruby. A tall stranger who Ruby keeps spotting in the shadows. This man may have followed them from London. And Ruby fears her dark secret will be exposed.

Then a murder at a local beauty spot brings danger for the party-loving set, and the first murder is followed by a second. Rumours of occult sacrifices spread across town.

In a breathtaking conclusion, Ruby faces a race against time to save someone very close to her, and her new life may be destroyed and her secrets exposed.


My Review

What I love most about this book is that we are thrown into the action right from the first few pages. Written in the first person, and following the journey of Ruby and Mary as they escape their abusive situations in Croydon, it is almost impossible not to become completely caught up in the lives of the girls. From Mary’s estranged husband, to Ruby’s abusive step father, you can’t help but root for the girls as they start to experience life free of inhibition. That is, of course, until a series of murders take place at on of Brighton’s top party spots. From here on in the girls are not only running from their past, but also a serial killer who is working their way through their friend group.

The story line, characters, and setting are all wonderfully developed and I never once questioned reality of these elements. The plight and determination of the girls is particularly endearing, and I adored the transformation of the beauty salon as the investigation took off – this seemed like a perfect development as everyone always gossips with their hairdresser, right? I was not, however, expecting the the inclusion of the occult element into this story. But, that’s not to say that it was a bad thing! Rather, I enjoyed that almost everyone denied the feasibility of this element right up until the very end. To add to the believability of the tale, the serial killer not only starts with the killing of animals, but they also insert themselves into the investigation in such a way that it’s hard to see coming. I must admit that I guessed the killer early on, only to later the second guess my assumption and assign blame to someone who turned out to be innocent. I love it when a book gets me all turned about, especially when you’re not expecting it from a lighter thriller.

I also really enjoyed how the ending came together, but appreciated even more that it wasn’t so clean a conclusion that there was no where to go in the future. I desperately want to know more about the man watching Ruby from the shadows, and what the future has to hold for them, as well as what will happen with the brewing Ruby-James-Kenny love triangle. I enjoyed the little shocks regarding the inspector, Mary’s baby, and the final murder but I feel that the romantic elements were the ones left the least tidied up. Before I Left is a wonderful start to what is sure to be an engaging and entertaining series, and I will be first in line to pick up the next Ruby Baker book when it hits the shelves.

Would I recommend this book? Hands down, yes! It is the perfect blend of lighter fiction and deeply twisted psychological thriller. It’s ideal for those readers who crave a little rush but don’t want the gory details to keep you up at night. Also, perfect for lovers of 60s British fashion as the descriptive elements are spot on… and may have inspired a shopping spree.


Many thanks to Daisy White and Joffe Books for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Early #Review Full Service Blonde by Megan Edwards

Whew! Finally back from holibobs and thankfully I have a little hoard of reviews lined up for the coming weeks. I took a little foray into the crime fiction world, and I hope that you enjoy these next few titles as much as I did!

When browsing new additions on NetGalley I was caught by the title and description of this book, and it didn’t take long to realize that I was not going to be disappointed. Set in Vegas, Copper Black is peppy, persistent and breathes new life into journalism and murder mysteries. This book was fun, engaging, and absolutely worth the read!



blondeTitle:
Full Service Blonde

Author: Megan Edwards

Publisher: Imbrifex Books

Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Investigative Mystery

Themes: Family, Journalism, Murder, Prostitution

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

A working girl is found dead in the desert. Can a calendar girl uncover the truth?

In this prequel to GETTING OFF ON FRANK SINATRA, it’s Christmastime in Sin City. Aspiring journalist Copper Black meets Victoria McKimber, an outspoken prostitute at one of Nevada’s legal brothels. She’s offered Copper the exclusive right to tell her story. Not only will the Las Vegas Light’s -calendar girl- get a byline, but she can also impress her boyfriend and parents when they arrive for the holidays.
Copper is busy with work, Christmas shopping, and fantasizing about a whole week with her long-distance boyfriend. She’s also helping her brother, a civic-minded pastor who is spearheading plans for a new center to serve the homeless. Things are hectic but under control when shocking news breaks. Victoria McKimber has turned up dead.
As she investigates the violent death, Copper evades enemies, juggles boyfriend, work, and family, and races against time to save her brother from a sinister plot. Unless she can expose the truth about Victoria McKimber, somebody just might get away with murder.


My Review

Okay, I loved this book. It’s short, sassy, and packed to the brim with murder, mystery, and some controversial issues to boot. I read this baby on an overnight flight and found myself the subject of neighbouring stink-eye more than once as I laughed a little too loud and a little too often. I was particularly fond of Sekhmet the cat and her crazy hunting/ gifting tendencies, not only because I have had kitties with similar habits, but also because she served as the perfect tool for plot advancement and comic relief on so many occasions.

And without too many spoilers, I really enjoyed Edwards’ exploration of relationship cycles and how to deal with them maturely and compassionately. From acknowledging that you can be madly in love with a legal prostitute to the fact that love can fizzle while the sex is still fantastic, and from the acknowledgement of repressed sexuality to the emotional roller-coaster of adopting a child every situation is handled with tact and genuine emotion. Not once did I feel that reactions and scenarios were contrived as they encapsulated shock and confusion alongside acceptance and personal growth.

Now, on to the murder mystery part of the story. What fun! Even though the subject matter wasn’t light, it was presented in such a manner that I never felt the need to take a break. This didn’t have the intense emotional ride that comes with some of the darker psychological thrillers, but I don’t think that Full Service Blonde was ever intended to be so dark and twisty that you need a few days to recover. The balance between humour, investigation, and stepping into some questionable situations was really well done.

Would I recommend this book? Oh, heck yes! It’s the perfect book to accompany your winter vacation when it comes out this fall. Don’t miss out on this upcoming Copper Black Mystery, and while you’re at it don’t forget to check out Getting Off On Frank Sinatra if you haven’t done so already.


Many thanks to Megan Edwards and AmazonCrossing for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

#Review #Blog Tour: Nemesister by Sophie Jonas-Hill @sophiejonashill @urbanebooks

Today it’s my turn on the Nemesister blog tour, and I am so thrilled as this my first ever blog tour! Many thanks to Abby Fairbrother for inviting me to join as Nemesister was absolutely outstanding and had me on my toes the entire time.

blogtournemesister


nemesisterTitle: Nemesister

Author: Sophie Jonas-Hill

Publisher: Urbane Publications

Publication Date: July 6, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Crime Fiction

Themes: Family, Revenge, Strong Female Protagonist, Amnesia

Features: N/A


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

It’s a psychological mystery where the female protagonist stumbles into a deserted shack with no memory but a gun in her hand. There she meets an apparent stranger, Red, and the two find themselves isolated and under attack from unseen assailants.

Barricaded inside for a sweltering night, cabin fever sets in and brings her flashes of insight which might be memory or vision as the swamp sighs and moans around her.

Exploring in the dark she finds hidden keys that seem to reveal her identity and that of her mysterious host, but which are the more dangerous – the lies he’s told her, or the ones she’s told herself?


My Review

If I could say just two words about Nemesister they would be READ IT! But, that would completely defeat the purpose of participating in a blog tour so I’m going to try and say as much as I can without any spoilers. Nemesister is the kind of thriller that keeps you on your toes and always guessing what is coming next. This intense psychological thriller is a must read for those that loves some twists and turns, and especially for those that love characters with inexcusable flaws.

Let’s start at the beginning though – I just couldn’t get enough of that opening! The description was so enticing, well written, and shrouded in mystery that I was absolutely hooked from the first few sentences. I could feel the southern heat, Margarita’s fear, and genuinely thought that the encounter with Red was absolutely happenstance. And the best part? Even though Nemesister started out on a high point it just kept gaining momentum.

The intertwining of the elements of memory and flashbacks, evocation of the senses, and meticulous description worked to create the kind of narrative that you have to stop and think about as you move along. More than once I found myself staring at the pages open-mouthed and dumbfounded only to be rapidly burning through the pages to find out what happened next. I found myself constantly questioning what was actually happening and what was being remembered, but the fluidity of the shifts between tenses was not only beautifully done but really worked to recreate the experience of someone regaining memory after a trauma. As a reader, I felt that I was experiencing the same confusion and remembrance as Margarita and appreciated the way in which those memories affected the situations that she was facing.

The characters were just the right levels of twisted, WTF, and entirely believable. And, the ending was one that I really wasn’t expecting. Seriously, who licks up blood?! I threw my book (okay, my kindle) across the room I was so horrified. Obviously I picked it up and kept reading because you can’t not keep reading after something like that, but man do I love it when you really don’t see something coming. The structure comes together like a beautiful jigsaw where the final piece is a resounding OMG!

Word of warning though, I enjoy profanity in books, particularly when it is character and situation appropriate. For those that take offence at the presence of swears, this book won’t be for you. But for everyone else, the language and use of southern drawl created a tense, believable, and in my opinion highly realistic atmosphere. Lets face it, if I woke up in a backwater fishing shack, having been shot and devoid of my memory I would be swearing like a sailor too!

Would I recommend this book? Oh, heck yes! Don’t wait too long to pick your copy up, or else you’ll risk friends, family, and very likely the internet letting the cat(s) out of the bag and minimizing the thrill.


Many thanks to Sophie Jonas-Hill and Urbane Publications for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, and to Abby Fairbrother (@annebonnybook) for inviting me to join my very first Blog Tour.

Off, Off and Away for Summer Holibobs

Alright you fabulous people, I’m hitting the road today for a cheeky summer visit with the fam-jams. I have brought with me a stack of books AND and preloaded kindle – so I promise some lovely things are going to come from my toned-down activities this week. 

And, if holibobs weren’t reason enough to celebrate, this week on the blog I will be taking part in my very first blog tour – Yippee! Keep your eyes peeled on July 14th for my review of Sophie Jonas-Hill’s debut novel Nemesister. This fabulous crime thriller is my absolute fave read of the summer so far and the other bloggers on this tour are absolutely crushing it when it comes content and guest posts. I highly recommend you check it out. 


Finally, Niagra on the Lake has this habit of making me power through books at unexpected speeds, so any summer reading recommendations are more than welcome. 

Happy summer reading! ❤️

#Review: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… But You Could’ve Done Better by Hillary F. Campbell

Today I decided to review something a little bit lighter than usual and landed on Hillary Fitzgerald Campbell’s ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… But You Could Have Done Better’. This collection of nonfiction, and anonymous, break up stories is quirky, funny, and sure to get a laugh out of just about anyone.



breaking upTitle: 
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.. But You Could’ve Done Better

Author: Hillary Fitzgerald Campbell

Publisher: Animal Media Group

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Genre: Nonfiction, Humour

Themes: Relationships, Breakups

Features: N/A


My Rating: 3/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Anonymous break up stories from men and women, old and young, serious and silly and the cartoons that inspired them. Author and artist Hilary Campbell turns the painful into the hilarious, validating emotions from forgotten middle school tragedies to relationships that ended only hours ago.

Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and cartoonist. Her films have won top prizes at Slamdance, SF IndieFest, and more. She was the co-illustrator of Jessica Bennett’s critically acclaimed Feminist Fight Club.Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, But You Could’ve Done Better is her first book of cartoons.


My Review

I was drawn to this book after having read Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up a little while back, and thought ‘hey, why not?’ This collection of anonymous stories made me giggle and guffaw more than a few times, as it took on the form of those ridiculous whisper confessions, and the illustrations that accompanied each story were just as cute.

My main complaint with this title is that while it is listed under comics and graphic novels, or as sequential art, the illustrations are neither sequential nor do they form a graphic novel. When I first selected the title I was expecting the stories to be completely translated into comic form (which would have been hilarious) rather than being accompanied by a single vignette. Don’t get me wrong, the stories were funny and the artwork spot on – but I would have preferred something that strayed a bit further away from single pane/ editorial comics. Was if fun? Sure! But there was way more that could have been done with these stories for them to be marketed as genuine comics and the collection as a graphic novel.

Would I recommend this book? Of course! It’s funny, relatable, and the perfect little book to leave places where it can be picked up and put down in a short amount of time. Campbell’s comic interpretation really adds to the experience, and reminded me more than a little of Bizzaro and Off the Mark. And, to be quite honest, it could easily be compared to the Bro Code bathroom readers in terms of humour and application.


Many thanks to Hillary Fitzgerald Campbell and Animal Media Group for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Early #Review: When the Future Comes too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Phew, what a crazy week! Thankfully I had this little gem by Selina Siak Chin Yoke to help get me through it. Emotional and evocative When the Future Comes too Soon is a beautiful read, but not one that you can rush through. This is the perfect book for lovers of richly detailed and character driven pieces, and of course for those who just can’t get enough WWII fiction from around the world.


futureTitle: When the Future Comes too Soon

Author: Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Series: The Malaysian Series, Book 2

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Publication Date: July 18, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Survival, Malaysia, Japanese Occupation, Family

Features: Glossary


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In Japanese-occupied Malaya, lives are shattered and a woman discovers her inner strength in a world ravaged by war.

Following the death of their matriarch, the lives of Chye Hoon’s family turned upside down. Now that the British have fled and the Japanese have conquered, their once-benign world changes overnight.

Amid the turmoil, Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, must fend for her family as her husband, Weng Yu, becomes increasingly embittered. Challenged in ways she never could have imagined and forced into hiding, Mei Foong finds a deep reservoir of resilience she did not know she had and soon draws the attentions of another man.

Is Mei Foong’s resolve enough to save herself, her marriage, and her family? Only when peace returns to Malaya will she learn the full price she must pay for survival.


My Review

I loved this book, a lot. With an incredibly strong  female protagonist, sympathetic and believable characters, an abundance of historical details, and complete immersion into the cultural melting pot of 1940s Malaysia it ticked all of the boxes that I normally look for. My only complaint is that even those big events that could have held some driving action were still focused almost entirely on Mei Foong and not the action. But, with that being said When the Future Comes too Soon has this wonderful slow-burn effect where the minutiae suck you in and it becomes impossible to look away.

Like Mei Foong, my dislike of her husband grew over time. I was initially sympathetic given the circumstances of the bombing, and then the occupation Ipoh, but he only got worse with time… Argh! If ever there was a character I wanted to reach through the pages and strangle it was Weng Yu. Well done Selina, I know it’s a good book when a character makes me angry. And despite the fact that I really didn’t like Weng Yu he does an amazing job exploring the clashes that can occur when ones deeply held cultural values don’t truly align with the face being presented to the world.

Mei Foong’s resourcefulness and dedication to her family never ceased to astound me. She was the perfect reminder of the difficulty and choices that faced those who survived, and thrived, during these times. I can only imagine what people sold their precious jewels and heirlooms for, how many beautiful gardens were turned into vegetable beds, and how everyone simply learned to do more with less. What I loved most about Men Foong was that even though she was capable of recognizing how events and choices had influenced her circumstances, she did not dwell on the past or waste time blaming people for things that could not be changed. Her resilience and adaptability was astounding, as was her practicality despite her wealthy upbringing.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely. But it comes with the warning that it should be savoured as rushing through and skipping ahead runs the risk overlooking essential elements and the attention to detail. You should also steel your nerves for some gut wrenching moments, keep your tissues close at hand, and keep you inner feminist on call for this exquisite exploration of self discovery and empowerment.


Many thanks to Selina Siak Chin Yoke and AmazonCrossing for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Early Review: 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant

I waffled on whether or not I should post this review now or schedule it for closer to the release date in October, but ultimately it was such a fun read that I wanted to share the love as soon as possible. Seriously, any book that makes me laugh this much should not be kept waiting in the wings! Fun and funny with just enough serious to encourage readers to consider others perspectives and experiences 36 Questions The Changed My Mind About You is well worth the read.



36 questionsTitle: 
36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You

Author: Vicki Grant

Publisher: Running Press

Expected Publication Date: October 17, 2017

Genre: Fiction, YA Fiction, YA Romance

Themes: Family, Romance, Friendship

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Inspired by the real psychology study popularized by the New York Times and its “Modern Love” column, this contemporary YA is perfect for fans of Eleanor and Park.

Hildy and Paul each have their own reasons for joining the university psychology study that asks the simple question: Can love be engineered?

The study consists of 36 questions, ranging from “What is your most terrible memory?” to “When did you last sing to yourself?” By the time Hildy and Paul have made it to the end of the questionnaire, they’ve laughed and cried and lied and thrown things and run away and come back and driven each other almost crazy. They’ve also each discovered the painful secret the other was trying so hard to hide. But have they fallen in love?

Told in the language of modern romance—texting, Q&A, IM—and punctuated by Paul’s sketches, this clever high-concept YA is full of humor and heart. As soon as you’ve finished reading, you’ll be searching for your own stranger to ask the 36 questions. Maybe you’ll even fall in love.


My Review

I normally hate YA romances, and I think that hate would be an understatement in most cases, but Grant’s upcoming novel had me laughing so much that I barely even noticed the good-girl-falls-for-the-mysterious-bad-boy thing that she had going on. I loved the multimodal approach including traditional writing, internet messaging, texts, passed notes, as well as comics and images. The constant shifting between presentations kept me engaged, the pace fast, and really encapsulated the many ways in which (young) people are communicating with one another. Given that so much of the text was heavily dialogue dependent I found that my imagination was constantly engaged as I had to envision what was happening between the words. And my favourite moment? “Did you just throw your fish at me?” Best opening ever.

I really loved the don’t judge a book by it’s cover messaging that was prevalent throughout, as you never know what is going on in someone’s life. I grew to really love Hildy and Paul, but wish that some of the depth that was invested in the two main characters had extended to Hildy’s friends Max and Xiu. Although I really enjoyed Max because he pulled through when needed, I found myself wanting to punch Xiu through the pages. If that was the intent, then it was exceptionally well done. But, back to our main characters, I really enjoyed Paul’s insistence that certain facts about his person and his life weren’t sad. Acceptance and understanding without pity and derision can be hard to come by, and too many people don’t take the time to see past the events in someone’s life and actually take the time to get to know them. Using the experiment to explore this was a masterful idea, and I think that the story that came out of it was absolutely spot on.

I really could go on and on about this book, but I would inevitably end up giving something away. Would I recommend it? Yessiree Bob! Not only is it a fun read for lovers of YA romance, but it would also be an interesting read for parents whose daughters are starting to date or whose families are going through some ‘stuff’. Fun, engaging, and endlessly humorous despite the heavier subject matter 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You is one that shouldn’t be overlooked.


Many thanks to Vicki Grant and Running Press for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Devastation Roan, but I was both pleasantly surprised and incredibly emotionally affected by this novel. While so many WWII novels look at the war itself, Hewitt explores the aftermath of liberation and the millions of displaced persons seeking to either piece their lives back together or start anew. This book is not for the faint hearted, but absolutely worth the read.


devastation roadTitle: Devastation Road

Author: Jason Hewitt

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Original Publication Date: July 30, 2017

Publication Date: July 03, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Internment Camps, Survival

Features: Suggested reading


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In the last months of World War II, a man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and with only flashes of memory coming back to him, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, setting out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past, and himself.

His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague recollection of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England, he becomes caught up in the flood of rootless people pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany.

When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. No one is as he remembers, not even himself. How can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?


My Review

What can I say about Devastation Road, other than that it’s the type of book that will take your breath away and keep you constantly searching for answers? I spent much of my time with this book in saddened disbelief, not because of the content itself, but because I knew all to well that events such as the ones depicted actually took place. I was enthralled with Owen, Janek, and Irena and was constantly striving to examine the little clues left about each in order to understand them better. Given the popularity of WWII fiction there can be certain homogeneity in the genre, and I must admit that in contrast Devastation Road is a breath of fresh air as well as a disturbing look into the realities of recovering from war.

I enjoyed that despite the fact that different sections of the book were dedicated to certain characters, that Owen’s viewpoint was maintained throughout the text. As a result the revelations about Janek and Irena had so much more impact than if I had been afforded a glimpse into their psyche as well. Further, I enjoyed the repetition of details and memories as Owen recovers from his amnesia, and absolutely loved how all of the elements came together to tell a single, coherent story within a story at the end.

Of all the characters, I found Irena to be the most interesting and complex. Although Owen was challenging to follow with his memory loss, Irena’s intentional deception really drew me into her storyline and created an emotional investment in her character that I absolutely wasn’t expecting. As a result, her final decision cut me to bone. I felt so betrayed afterwards that I had such a hard time reading about her afterwards and I really had to step back and think about the choices that she had to make in order to survive and remind myself to be more compassionate of her circumstances.

I think the choice to given Owen amnesia rather than having readers experience the horrors of internment was an incredibly tactful one. As there is so much information available about concentration camps and work camps, I doubt that this book would finds it’s way into the hands of anyone who has never before heard of their conditions. And with this background knowledge in mind, the reader is left to imagine the horrors that Owen might have witnessed and experienced, and the imagination can be an incredibly powerful thing! Hewitt broaches some incredibly disturbing moments and concepts without being graphic or employing gratuitous violence, a feat which is nearly impossible when dealing with the reshuffling of nations borders, rape, and genocide.

The ending was ultimately beautiful, as it encapsulated both the sorrow and happiness that accompanied so many homecomings. I enjoyed that while ends were tied up, that there were still many questions left unanswered, that loss still dominated, and that so many of the characters had realistic and believable flaws. I loved that no one was perfect, that there wasn’t really a hero, and that no one is actually who or what they present themselves to be.

Beautiful and bittersweet, Devastation Road is an absolute must read for lovers of WWII fiction. It presents unique views from a period often overlooked by authors and encourages consideration from some of the unconventional characters and choices that became more prevalent in the years following the war. Hewitt’s style is captivating and clear, and is sure to take you on a deeply emotional journey of discovery and loss.


Many thanks to Jason Hewitt and Little, Brown and Company for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.