Year End Wrap-Up #amreading #books

2018

Well book lovers, it’s been one hell of a year!

I didn’t do near as much reading as I normally would thanks to any number of circumstance – an interesting run of failed offers on properties, the sale of our house in record time, finally finding our dream home but with the worlds shortest possession and the endless stream of renovations that has followed rank high amongst my distractions. Then add in a new job, a bit of travel, some random health issues within the fam-jam and I’m sure you can imagine how the TBR has since spiralled out of control.

However, it’s that time of year again where wrap-ups and years-in-review dominate our streams and I simply couldn’t resist. While I once again fell short of my goal to read 100 books in a year, I’m absolutely over the with the titles that I did and I could’t wait to share a little more book-love to close out 2018.

Top Reads of 2018

Like last year, I thought about ranking these, but still can’t bring myself to compare apples to oranges or to put one book ahead of another. So, I have decided to once again select a few memorable titles from each broader genre. I am sure I have a great many, wonderful titles that I’ve forgotten to include – but this is a wrap-up, not an annotated bibliography so I’m trying my best to keep it brief!


Historical Fiction


hearts

Strong women, the French Resistance during WWII, and a serious touch of espionage – this baby had it all! Hearts of Resistance by Soraya M. Lane had me wishing that this was a TV series or feature film because there was so much juicy action. It’s well written, punchy, and it tickles my feminist heart strings to boot. It has this incredible balance between uplifting hope and the abject horror of reality, which really made it memorable in my books.

35523006

Ugh, this list would not be complete without The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. It’s not often I ignore my TBR to reread a book right after I’ve finished it, but this baby had that draw – and I might have ugly-cried the entire second read. The sheer emotional impact Morris delivers is absolutely phenomenal, the language powerfully evocative, and the story so rooted in reality that I found it hard to draw a line between fact and fiction. I loved every minute of this book, even the uncomfortable bits, and haven’t yet passed an opportunity to recommend it to family and friends.


YA


girl like that

Read it. No, seriously, read it. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena is so damn good. This is the kind of book that denies categorization as YA or literary fiction, but it demands to be read because of it’s relevancy, willingness to tackle some rather horrible and universal issues, and because the writing is simply beautiful. Irreverent, poignant, and punchy where it matters I’m willing to bet A Girl Like That is going to have some serious staying power.

wolves

I read a lot of YA fantasy, an not much of it ends up with a review on the blog. But The Gilded Wolves by Rouhani Chokshi was the kind of amazing that has me wishing for a movie deal. The originality of the world building alone had me absolutely blown away, the diversity of the characters enraptured, and the uniqueness of the magic utterly bewitched. This book was so fun and fresh that I jumped out my seat with legitimate joy when it became clear that a sequel would be forthcoming. I just wish I knew more about said sequel… like, now!


Comics & Graphic Novels


photo

Okay, so I know this baby could fall under historical fiction, but I decided it belongs with with the graphic medium rather than the subject matter. Dark, uncomfortable, and painfully real despite it’s abstraction through comics The Photographer of Mauthausen stuck with me for weeks after I turned the final page. Given how much of the story was told through photographs I don’t think that a traditional novel would have done this retelling any justice. Heartbreaking and poignant, I would definitely put this on a list titled “If you only ever read one graphic novel it has to be…”

YvainOkay, so I know that this baby was actually published in March of 2017, but I didn’t get around to reading it until this year. But M. T. Anderson’s retelling of this classic medieval tale, accompanied by Andrea Offermann’s exceptional illustrations absolutely stole my heart. Seeing Yvain: The Knight of the Lion retold in a way that is both entertaining and accessible to modern readers of all ages ticked all the right boxes for me. It made this list purely because I find myself directing students to it at least once a week, and because I can read it over and over again and get something new out of it each and every time. Whether you’re a fan of Arthurian legends, fast paced action, or a touch of magic this baby is damn versatile it hurts.

emmie

Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson is one of those books that I picked up on a whim and ended up sticking in the back if my mind in a recurring kind of way. There are a great many works out there to help middle grade readers navigate the complexities of friendship and fitting in, but this one stood out from the crow. I think the thing that I loved the most was that Invisible Emmie doesn’t have any real mean-girls to overcome, but that it focuses on self acceptance and discovery – that alone is worth it’s weight in gold!


Crime Fiction


9780749023621 hidden bones hb wb

Ugh. Ugh, ugh ugh! So much good. I mean, I barely have the words to describe how much I loved reading The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford. It had the perfect balance between crime, drama, and archaeology and I was legitimately angry when it ended because I wanted so much more! It’s been a long time since I found an archaeologist/ author that I loved as much as the O’Neil Gear’s, and I have no doubts that Ford will be a strong contender for my next fan-girl fascination.

birthday

My love of Carol Wyer’s work should be no secret by now so finding The Birthday on this list will be no surprise. Not only was it the perfect start to a new series, it was an absolutely outstanding novel! I adored Natalie Ward and her team and the crimes presented are dark and twisty in all the right ways, with just enough gore to keep you horrified but not so much as to make you pause or put the book away. This was, by far, my most favourite police procedural of the year – and I simply can’t wait for the next instalment to hit shelves.


Literary Fiction


vow

This baby makes the list because I loved it despite my decided hatred of romance. Maybe it was the fashion, maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the exceptional cast of supporting characters, but The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans won me over and had me gushing in no time at all. It was the perfect way to close out the year.

1000Last but not least, we have my very first read of 2018 – which was so powerful I haven’t stopped trying to push it on all of my Canadian family friends despite our inability to locate a regular supply in print. Woman at 1, 000 Degrees by Hallgrimur Helgason blew my socks off (pun fully intended) and opened my eyes to the world of Icelandic literature. Witty, blunt, and beyond captivating Helgason’s creation was the most memorable way I could have started the year.


So there we have it, my top reads of 2018!

Thank you all for being so wonderful and supportive, and I look forward to what 2019 has to offer.

See you in the new year!

– J

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#Review: The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans #HistoricalFiction #Romance @bookouture

Happy Holidays book lovers! Today I’m delighted to share my final review of 2018, The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans. Firmly in the realm of chic lit and romance, I have most definitely strayed from my regular selections. But the cover and description were both too pretty to resist – and it turned out to be a damned good decision because The Secret Vow turned out to be an amazing read chalk full of history, fashion, and family drama to boot.


vowTitle: The Secret Vow

Author: Natalie Meg Evans

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: December 11, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

Themes: Family, Survival, Coming of Age, First Love

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Katya – young, beautiful and impoverished – arrives in Paris, hoping to begin a new life. She leaves behind a terrible secret, and her survival in this strange and beautiful new city depends on nobody ever discovering who – and what – she is.

Immediately, Katya is swept up in the city’s glamour – particularly the boutiques on the main boulevard, where glittering gowns are hand-sewn for an exclusive clientele. Dare Katya dream that she may someday wear – or even design – one of these dazzling creations? It feels like an impossible wish, until she meets businessman Harry Morten.

Tall, handsome and well-connected, Harry could give Katya everything she wants and more… but at what price? And should she break the vow she’s made and trust him with her secret when her very survival could be at stake?


My Review

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for a few weeks now, mostly because I didn’t want my deeply ingrained resistance to romance to bias my words. But, as much as I hate a healthy dose of mush, the dynamic between Katya and Harry was so reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. A poor and striving young lady in want of an income, a rich and haughty young heir with a good heart, and both too proud and petulant to allow for their emotions to win out sooner. Now throw in a distant but overbearing mother, a brash and disrespectful younger sister, and a minor miscommunication regarding a betrothal and you know you’ve got a winning recipe.

Of course, that’s about as far as the Austen parallels go. The Secret Vow is set at the close of WWI and during the height of the Russian Revolution which adds a dash of fear, desperation and rationing that really heightens the drama. Add to that the immeasurable loss that the Vytenis family suffered as they fled, the impossible choices that haunt Katya as she strives to make a new life for her family in Paris, and the fact that the Vytenis’s have former friends looking to bring them down further at every turn.

While I appreciated the difficulties Katya encountered with her mother, the dynamic between Tatya and her older sister was perhaps the most fraught – with the elder taking on the weight of the family and the younger thinking of no one but herself. I went through the entire book wanting to smack Tatya for her impertinence, but I suppose that’s the mark of a well written character, as they get so far under your skin as to actually aggravate you! And really, what’s a good family drama without a character that you love to hate?

Katy too had moments where I wanted to bring her back down to reality, but I suppose when you’re a former princess adapting to relative poverty there’s sure to be some growing pains. And while I found her arrogant and insufferable at times, I appreciated the conviction with which she worked to protect and provide for her family. I appreciated how no job was too small for her to take, and how even when her upbringing predicated that she looked down on certain types of work, that Katya always saw needs and reason and quickly came to grips with reality.

What I loved the most though, was the shifting landscape of Paris fashion between the wars. I enjoyed the stark contrast between the highly structured Russian aristocratic culture, and the influence of Coco Chanel with looser shapes and the shedding of the corset. The descriptions of cuts, colours, and fabrics were truly sumptuous and honestly made me want to pull out my Gran’s photo albums. The fashion aspect worked too, with the romantic arc in the story, as Harry’s embedded status in the textiles world provided organic avenues through which his and Katya’s paths could frequently cross.

I adored the descriptions of atelier life, the process and the shows, and especially the life of a mannequin before these women were replaced with plastic objects. The behind the scenes glimpses into the cut-throat world of fashion houses bring a tread of reliability as both girls and fashion have proven in their steadfastness to remain nasty. Perhaps my only complaint about this setting is that the good Harry Morten is always there to save day, which means that Katya’s success is not truly self made, but rather indebted to his generosity. I can’t really complain though, as it is Harry’s role as the reluctant hero that makes the romantic elements of this story so appealing.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was, without question, one of my favourite reads of 2018. Full of fashion, hardship, and a coming of age The Secret Vow is a step back into worlds long forgotten and a truly enjoyable read.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#Review: Last Lullaby by Carol E. Wyer #CrimeFiction #Thriller @carolewyer

Today I’m delighted to share a 5 star review for Carol Wyer’s latest instalment in the D. I. Natalie Ward series, Last Lullaby. Fast paced, gripping, and an emotional roller coaster this baby will leave you clinging to the edge of your seat. Read it crime lovers, you won’t be disappointed!


lullabyTitle: Last Lullaby

Author: Carol E. Wyer

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: December 7, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Crime, Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Murder Mystery

Themes: Family, Crime, Serial Killers, Work/ Life Balance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Charlotte’s baby is safe. But is she?

When the body of mother Charlotte Brannon is discovered by her husband Adam, in their bedroom, Detective Natalie Ward is first on the scene. The killer has left a chilling calling card: The word ‘Why?’ written on the wall in blood.

As Natalie begins to delve deeper into the couple’s lives, she discovers that Adam has a dark past he’s been hiding and she’s sure that the Brannon’s teenage babysitter Inge has secrets of her own.

Then another mother is murdered on her doorstep in front of her young son, the word ‘why’ scrawled on the wall next to her.

All the key suspects have alibis and with her own marriage hanging by a thread, Natalie is struggling to stay focused on cracking her toughest case yet.

When a young woman and her baby disappear, a member of Natalie’s own team is put in terrible danger. Can Natalie stop this twisted serial killer and save one of her own before more families are torn apart forever?

Gripping, fast-paced and nail-bitingly tense, this book will send shivers down your spine. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Karin Slaughter.


My Review

While I love the D. I. Robyn Carter series, I was over the moon when the chance came around to dive into another D. I. Natalie Ward thriller. I just can’t get enough of her dysfunctional family, gritty team, and the jumped up killers. I was immediately sucked back into the team dynamic, and while I loved every minute of it, it’s definitely one of those sequels that benefits from having read the first book in the series. There’s enough going on between Natalie and David that it helps to know the history, and the same goes for the life events of the team. But with that being said, Last Lullaby has never been presented as a standalone item, and the continuity from The Birthday is both comfortable and seamless.

The crimes that the narrative revolves around are absolutely abhorrent (in the best way posisble) with mothers murdered before their infant children, chilling messages written in the victims blood, and not a thread of discernible connection between them. The nature of the murders is heightened by the interspersed psychologists sessions, clearly from our killer’s point of view but entirely anonymous. The result of these glimpses was that while I was willing to acknowledge a terrible childhood as, shall we say mitigating circumstance, I couldn’t help but feel disdain rather than pity and not a spec of sympathy.

My ire was piqued further by Adam and Lee’s continued evasions of the investigation despite their shady pasts. Their actions exposed perfectly the fear of prejudices harboured by law enforcement and society against former convicts, as even those who are innocent are treated with the same suspicion and lack of respect as those who are still engaged in crime. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, while I love an entertaining story, I love them even more when fiction is used to cast a critical eye against pervasive societal issues.

The result of their evasions was an infuriating confusing and convoluted case with false leads, dead ends, and a revolving cast of suspects. I was constantly trying to make things line up, and yet my guesses were right. I shared the frustrations of the team, grew irritated with the layered lies, and wanted to take my rage out against some of the less savoury characters. And because of it, I also shared in their growing helplessness as each new victim joined the murder board – which consequently kept my pages turning at break neck speed.

Perhaps the only thing that I was left wanting more of was resolution with regards to Charlotte’s family plot. I wish I could say more, but can’t without dropping spoilers! All I can say is what about her sister’s finance? What about little Alfie? What about her parents? Perhaps it’s my love of neat, tidy endings but this story left me wanting more! But, I have to acknowledge that the lack of resolution is entirely fitting. I mean, how many detectives get to know how the families of their victims make out in the wake of their respective tragedies? How many families actually find closure after their cases are solved? The turmoil, mess, and lack of resolution was entirely fitting – if not unbearably saddening.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I loved the first book in this series, and the second even more so. I can’t wait for the next instalment to be released. Buy it, borrow it, gift if for Christmas – you won’t be disappointed!


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#ARC #Review: The Light Over London by Julia Kelly #HistoricalFiction #WWIIFiction

Today I’m delighted to return to my love of WWII fiction with a glowing review for The Light Over London by Julia Kelly. I don’t normally go for books with a strong romance theme, but this baby had enough other, amazing stuff going on that I was happy to set general dislike of mush aside and dive right in. Pull up your stockings ladies, this one will leave you empowered, angry, and ready to take on the world.


lightTitle: The Light Over London

Author: Julia Kelly

Publisher: Gallery Books

Publication Date: January 9, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: Family, Friendship, Survival, WWII, Romance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Reminiscent of Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, this sweeping, entrancing story is a must-read for fans of remarkable women rising to challenges they could never have predicted.

It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.

In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.

Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.

Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, Julia Kelly transports us to World War II London in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.


My Review

While I enjoyed Louise’s story, with her war-time dance hall romance not so dissimilar from how my grandparents met, it took me a touch longer than normal to connect with her character. At first I found her mousy and almost dull (as I’m sure was intended!), and it took Louise and Kate running away to enlist before I really started to care about her character. And I really started to root for her when she took her position in the Ack-ack command and then refused to be controlled by her paramour because she finally her own personal value and the value of the work that she was doing.

Cara on the other hand, I connected with almost instantly. Perhaps it was the conviction with which she removed herself from a toxic relationship (seriously, we need more pop-culture characters that reject rather than glorify such dangerous pairings!) or the fact that she worked for an antiques dealer and discussed in-depth the same bits of cultural ephemera with which I have always been obsessed, we simply clicked.

I enjoyed too how the men in this book were polar opposites from one another. The shy, almost absent minded professor set against the cocky, play-boy pilot. And Yet, it was entirely believable how each woman for her lover. They were both charismatic and endearing, yet simultaneously flawed and complex in ways that create depth and relatability.

I loved the split narrative between present day and WWII. the stories of these two women had enough contrast to create interest, but were complementary enough to create an entirely harmonious narrative. Both women were deceptively strong yet awash with self-doubt, and most definitely on the road to discovering their strength and purpose as individuals rather than in relation to their romantic partners.

The diary served as the perfect bridge between their stories. At times it was impossible to tell if the diary passages were being written by Louise or read by Cara which worked to help bend the timelines and aid in the willing suspension of disbelief. And the way in which the diary was presented really worked to highlight the universality of Louise and Cara’s experiences, with each representing the beginnings and endings of the same type of relationship – always in juxtaposition – which created a feeling of cycles and balance.

But what I loved the most about the diary is how it addresses head on is the flaws of biography and life writing. Especially when Cara finally locates the family of our diary owner, and Louise’s perception of herself and how others viewed her is thrown into question. It forces us, as readers, to question the authority of the narrator(s) and immediately triggers a demand for reflection and the reconsideration of key moments through a different lens. These moments of revelation were perfectly timed for maximum effect, sneak up when you are least expecting them, and change everything.

Would I recommend this book? Sure thing! It might be on the light side, even firmly in the realm of women’s fiction, but it’s carefully crafted and demands reflexive introspection. Kelly stitches a believable balance of between historical fact, imaginative fiction, and heartwarming romance. For lovers of WWII fiction and women’s fiction alike, The Light Over London is sure to hit the spot.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.