Friday, January 29, 2016

"City of the Lost" by Kelley Armstrong

Casey Duncan is a talented police detective, dedicated to her job and her best friend Diana.  Other than her no strings attached relationship with ex-con Kurt, her life is focused on those two things.  But Casey carries with her a very dark secret - she once killed a man, and she got away with it.

Casey and Diana have been on the run for years, from Diana’s powerful and abusive ex-husband.  Once again, he’s found her and now it’s time for Diana to run once more.  But when a figure from Casey’s past shows up and threatens her life, the two women realize that they need to go somewhere they will never be found.

Diana has heard of a place, a town where people who need to disappear completely can go.  Located in the far northern reaches of Canada, this town is their only hope.  Casey and Diana are thrilled to be accepted into Rockton, but when they arrive Casey quickly discovers that all is not as it seems.  Because a hunter has come to Rockton, and it's hunting for people.

City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong, is thrilling mystery novel that will have readers guessing to the very end. With a unique premise, it is sure to impress both long-time mystery readers and those new to the genre.

Kelley Armstrong typically writes paranormal books so I will say that I have not read any of her work as that is not a genre I have much interest in.  But I do know from spending time on Twitter how much people love her work and how dedicated her fans are. So when I saw that she was writing a mystery novel, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to give a new to me Canadian writer a read.

This book had me hooked right from the beginning and I could not put it down.  At over 400 pages, it can seem daunting at first, but the writing and the storyline will have you breezing through it in no time.  I couldn’t believe how quickly I got through the first 100 pages, it was all due to being completely engrossed in the story.

This is a creepy and gory mystery but thankfully for as spine-tingling that it is, the writing keeps the reader interested rather than put off.  There were many moments in the book where I was pretty sure I knew who the killer was (different characters each time) and the ending came as a surprise to me which was great.  There’s nothing worse than figuring it out pretty quick then having to read 300 more pages to find out what you already know.  

Casey Duncan is a character that is flawed and troubled but that readers will have no problem warming up to.  I also appreciate that Casey is biracial in a book where the race of the character has no bearing on the story.  What we see in the literary world right now is a default to white characters when race does not affect the storyline so I was happy to see a character that is more representative of our population.  

A town in the north where people can disappear to, it is such a unique premise and it also makes for a very eerie setting for a murder mystery.  I absolutely enjoyed this book and I hope that Armstrong continues to write mysteries because I will definitely read them all.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Birdie" by Tracey Lindberg

Bernice Meetoos, aka Birdie, is a Cree woman who has left her home in Northern Alberta and travelled to Gibsons, BC. There, she hopes to find and meet Pat Johns, who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, partly because of a teenage crush and partly because he is a working, healthy Indian man.  

In Gibsons, she ends up meeting Lola, a white woman who gives her a place to stay and a job in her bakery.  But it is also here that her past catches up to her.  When she doesn’t find what she is looking for her on her travels, she has a breakdown and takes to her bed. Her Auntie Val and her cousin, Skinny Freda, soon arrive in Gibsons to take care of Birdie, as she embarks on a quest that will change her life forever.

Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg, is an incredible novel about confronting and healing from your past.  Steeped in Cree lore and traditions, this novel touches on the life faced by Aboriginal woman in Canada and on the experiences all women face.

I had a tough time reading this book.  I don’t think I was in the right headspace to fully appreciate what I was reading because as I sit down to write this review, the things that I glimpsed over are now coming back to move and haunt me.

Bernice, or Birdie, is a strong character that draws the emotion out of the readers.  Sexually assaulted as a child by family members, raised by a single mother who disappeared, taken in by a white family who couldn’t relate to her, living on the streets of Edmonton, then ending up in a psychiatric facility, she lived through more heartache and hurt than should be had in a lifetime.  All of this pain catches up to her, resulting in a breakdown, where she disappears into herself and her dreams, which include both Cree folklore and The Frugal Gourmet.  

What also makes this book so poignant is the writing style.  The book jumps around throughout Birdie’s life to give bits and pieces that eventually inform of the reader of why Birdie’s present day situation is so important.  I greatly appreciate how Lindberg starts each chapter with Cree vocabulary and its English translation.  They also include bits of an Acimowin, which in Cree tradition is a fable.

But the most important part of this novel, for me, is the way it puts a face to the strength and power of Native women in Canada.  In a country that right now is crying out for something to be done regarding our treatment of the Aboriginal people, in a time where it looks like the powers that be may finally be waking up to the fact that we have failed the over 1100 missing or murdered Aboriginal women as well as those who endured the harsh realities of the residential school system, this book puts a face to those people we have for too long put to the side.  But this book isn’t a face of victimhood, it’s a face of a culture that stands strong on its families and their traditions.  

The more I sit and think on this book, the more I realize what an incredible story it is.  This a story about healing, resilience, and community.  This is a story about strength.  It says a lot to me when a book keeps getting better long after I turn the final page. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

"Lost Ocean" by Johanna Basford

Working in a bookstore, the most common question I heard at Christmas was "do you sell those adult colouring books?"  I honestly lost count of how many times I answered that question.

Adult colouring books are a trend that has completely taken over and one that, at first, I didn't quite understand.  Until I received a sample of Lost Ocean from Penguin Random House while I was at Word on the Street this past summer.  I brought it home, coloured a few pages, and was hooked. They are fun and relaxing, the perfect thing to do when unwinding at the end of a long day.

Whenever I was asked about colouring books, I always recommended one by Johanna Basford.  Since releasing The Secret Garden a couple of years ago, she has sold over 10 million books.  Her illustrations are absolutely beautiful, incredibly intricate, and very enjoyable. Here are two pictures I have coloured so far:

I started with two easier pictures but there are so many pages that are completely filled with intricate designs.  What I love about these colouring books is that there is so much to colour, you will spend so much time with them.  Each of the above pictures took me a few hours to colour.  As I tell people, you definitely get your money's worth with them.  And I love the thick paper that is used, this is definitely a high quality book.

If you are a non-creative person like I am, you'll enjoy this colouring book because it will make you feel like an artist.  If you are a creative person, you will have a lot of fun with all of the possibilities these beautiful pictures present.  

If you haven't jumped on the adult colouring bandwagon yet, I highly recommend you do and start with Lost Ocean.  Lose yourself in the fish, dolphins, mermaids, crabs, jellyfish, seahorses, and the beautiful flora.  Just keep a pencil sharpener close by, you'll definitely be wanting to make sure your pencil crayons are perfectly sharpened.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of A Fist" by Sunil Yapa

When Victor sets out to sell marijuana to some of the 50,000 anti-globalization protestors gathered in Seattle, he doesn’t know what he is in for.  The protestors are determined to shut down the city and the meetings of the WTO delegates.  But the patience of the police is wearing thin and clashes are inevitable.

Over the course of one afternoon, the lives of seven people will be altered completely.  Bishop, the chief of police, is the father that Victor hasn’t seen in three years.  Ju and Park are police officers assigned to control the crowds.  King and John Henry are two protestors who are watching their plan of non-violence spin wildly out of control.  And then there is Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, the Sri Lankan finance minister for whom the fate of his country rests on getting through the protestors to the meetings.  

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, the debut novel from Sunil Yapa, is a moving and powerful novel about humanity and compassion.

This is a fascinating novel that I absolutely enjoyed reading.  I do not remember the demonstrations that took place in Seattle in 1999, but this is a novel that could take place anywhere at any time.  It’s not necessary to understand what happened in Seattle, just to understand what drives people toward these situations.  And this book does a great job of helping the reader understand that.

I particularly enjoyed the way the story was told in short chapters with each chapter being from the perspective of another character.  There are just enough characters to make this work and through doing this, Yapa drives the story forward while giving a well-rounded view of the situation at hand.  

I often forgot that this book was taking place over the period of just one day, there were so many layers to it and so much going on.  There were a few moments that were very poignant but one that especially made me feel as though I was punched in the stomach, it took my breath away.  

I picked up this book because it was on every must read of 2016 list so I figured it had to be good.  I was not disappointed.  A year from now this book will be on every best of 2016 list.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"The Outside Circle" by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

Pete and Joey are brothers, young Aboriginal men who are surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence brought on by the centuries of historic trauma inflicted upon the Aboriginal people of Canada.  

Pete has fallen in with a gang, is dealing drugs, and is committing violence in order to provide for his younger brother and his heroin addict mother.  One night, Pete gets into a fight with his mother’s boyfriend, Dennis, which ends with Dennis being taken away in a body bag.  In jail, Pete maintains his gang ties but when he finds out that Joey has fallen in with them and then Pete is attacked by a rival gang member, he realizes that he needs to break the cycle.

Pete is offered the opportunity to participate in a program that helps incarcerated Aboriginal men begin the process of rehabilitation through traditional Aboriginal healing circles and ceremonies.  It will be a difficult struggle, one that Pete will initially try to fight but he knows that though his own healing, he will be able to help others with theirs.

The Outside Circle is a moving and powerful graphic novel written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings.  Drawn from LaBoucane-Benson’s research and work in the field of healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men, it tells the story of brave men who face their demons head on through traditional healing methods.

I learned so much from this book, I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.  There is so much more for non-Aboriginal Canadians to learn regarding the plight of the Aboriginal people in Canada.  When you think on what we have learned, we know about the treatment they suffered through colonial policies such as stripping them of their rights, forcing them on to reserves, the horrors of residential schools, and the laws that allowed all of this.  But what we don’t really understand is the lasting effects its has had on people.  We know about the prevalence of poverty, drug abuse, and violence in the community but we don’t truly understand the emotional tolls.  We see the faces, but we don’t see what is behind them.  And that is what this book brings to us.

In the book, Pete participates in the In Search of Your Warrior Program, a program that LaBoucane-Benson oversees in her role as Director of Research, Training, and Communication at Native Counselling Services of Alberta.  This book is so well-written.  The powerlessness and hopelessness that Pete feels jumps off the page and into your heart.  Readers will find inspiration and hope in Pete’s journey.  I also appreciated very much the way statistics and historical documents are presented in the book.  The page where Pete’s mother signs the Permanent Guardianship Order is especially poignant.

The artwork by Kelly Mellings is absolutely beautiful. There is rich detail in each and every panel and you can spend a lot of time in the intricacies of the art.  So much of the story is told through those intricacies.  More and more I am becoming a fan of graphic novels that teach us about history and social justice issues.  This is book should be on every Canadian must-read list.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance" by Kirsty Greenwood

Jessica Beam loves to party.  But she loves to party too much, so much so that she’s lost both her home and her job because of it.  Down on her luck and with no one to turn to, she seeks out her long-lost grandmother.

Matilda Beam is the exact opposite of her granddaughter.  Her etiquette guides that made her a household name in the 1950’s aren’t needed by the young women of today and with her only source of income gone, the bills are piling up.  If things don’t pick up fast, she’ll lose her home and a whole lot more.

After finding each other, Jessica and Matilda get one shot to turn things around. A London publisher has offered them a deal - if Matilda can turn Jessica into a demure, vintage lady by using all the rules of her old-fashioned Good Woman guides, then they will publish an updated version of Matilda’s books.   But the plan will only be considered successful if Jessica can capture the heart of Leo Frost, London’s most notorious playboy.

The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance, by Kirsty Greenwood is a fun and flirty novel that will have readers smiling from the first page to the last.

I loved Kirsty’s first book, Yours Truly, it was a laugh out loud novel and a very strong debut.  So I was very much looking forward to reading this book and it didn’t disappoint.  A great cast of characters, lots of hijinks, and a vintage theme throughout, it is a truly enjoyable book.

Jess Beam is the life of the party and she doesn’t apologize for it at all.  But as she and her friends get older and the rest of them become a bit more responsible, Jess ends up falling out with them.  When she loses her job and her home in the same day, she is completely on her own.  But Jess is also one of those girls who is never down and out for long.  She is a fantastic main character and though I felt in the beginning she was pretty tragic, she quickly redeemed herself.

As someone who loves old etiquette books and thinks that todays society could do with quite a lot of the “old time” manners, Matilda Beam was another fantastic character for me. I loved the way Matilda and Jess represented two very different women and time periods but were able to come together to create a new modern, inspirational woman.  A woman can be the life of the party while remaining a bit of a mystery!

This story unfolded perfectly.  I liked how Leo Frost was given depth to him and wasn't just a womanizer through the whole book.  The story of Jess' mother and why she had never met her grandmother before developed nicely throughout the book.  

This is a book that you will want to read in one sitting.  I did not want to put it down at all and may have avoided some responsibilities in order to keep reading.  In reviewing her first book, I pointed out how Kirsty understands the Chick Lit genre perfectly and I stand by that comment after reading this book as well.  

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Hungry Ghosts" by Peggy Blair

When the ghost of a woman appears alongside Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, he knows that it won’t be long before a woman turns up dead in Havana.  And while he is investigating a case of vandalism in the art world, a prostitute is found murdered, with nylons wrapped around her neck.  The nylons connect this case to Ramirez’s only cold case and now he fears he has a serial killer on his hands.

Detective Charlie Pike is investigating a murder on a First Nation reserve in Northern Ontario, and people are worried that this body is another victim of the Highway Strangler.  This woman too has a pair of nylons tied around her neck.

It is a race against the clock for both officers to find their killer before it strikes again.  With the Cuban government trying to silence Inspector Ramirez and Detective Pike having to navigate the delicate relations between the First Nations and the Canadian forces, the pressure mounts for these two to track an international serial killer.

Hungry Ghosts, by Peggy Blair, is the third book in her Inspector Ramirez series, a series that continues to keep readers on the edge of their seat.

I am addicted to this series.  Blair takes all the necessary elements of a good mystery and just keeps adding to them, creating a rich and layered story.  One would say that too many elements spoil the story but Blair has found the perfect recipe.  First you start with Cuba, where Blair shows us what the country is like away from the resort.  She shows the difficulties of daily life for Cubans and the roadblocks the police department faces while investigating crimes.  Then you have Inspector Ramirez and his ability to see the ghosts of the people of whose murders he is investigating.  In this novel we learn about the art world, politics in Cuba, and relations between Cuba and America.

Add to this the Canadian side of the stories, where we read about life on the First Nation territories, they way their lands have been decimated and how they are fighting against it, and about the frail relationship between the First Nations people and the Canadian government.  And amidst all of this, there is a killer (or killers) to track down.  It is all just incredible.  Before I read the book, I wondered just how Blair would connect the stories in Cuba and in Canada without it becoming a bit silly.  I didn’t need to worry about that at all.  

When I rated the first two novels in this series, I gave them both five stars.  This novel I gave four stars. My reason for that is I felt that there were parts of the book where the story slowed down a bit for me and in comparing it to the first two, it was just a bit of a difference reading experience for me.  Really though, my rating would be 4.5 stars.  

If you have not read a book from this series, I highly recommend you pick it up, starting with The Beggar’s Opera and following with The Poisoned Pawn and Hungry Ghosts.  Especially if you are a mystery fan and moreso if you aren’t. This is a series that will have you reconsidering the genre.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Troublemaker" by Leah Remini

Leah Remini is known for being outspoken.  The actress, talk show host, and reality television star has always said what was on her mind and has never held back.  And she is no different in her book as she shares the story of her life and gives a behind the headlines look at her very public split with the Church of Scientology.

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, by Leah Remini, is a raw, honest, and eye-opening memoir of what life is like within Scientology.

I have always been a fan of Remini’s.  I remember her as Charlie Briscoe first on Who’s the Boss and then Living Dolls as well as Stacy Kerosi on Saved by the Bell and even as a kid I remember being in awe of her.  I absolutely love her on King of Queens and tuned into The Talk to watch her.  But I never paid much attention to her personal life and Scientology is something that I’ve never really cared to hear about.  But when Leah left the church, I started to pay attention to what she had to say.  I figured if anyone was going to tell you the true story, the stuff that no one wants you to hear, it would be her.

Leah joined the church at the age of 13 when her mother began attending it in New York.  They eventually moved to Florida to be a part of the Sea Org and then on to Los Angeles, where Leah decided to become an actress.  It was here that she really became dedicated to the church, taking her place among Scientology’s elite like Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and Tom Cruise.

Remini and her husband spent some time with Cruise and was invited to his wedding to Katie Holmes.  But it was at the wedding, that she began to question some actions of the church, things that seemed to go above and beyond what was expected by the religion.  Her actions resulted in disciplinary measures by the church.  And as she began to question more and more the integrity of those around her, she realized that for the good of her family, she needed to leave.  She was declared a Suppressive Person and members, including her family, were told to never have contact with her again.

Leah’s split from the church was pretty public but there is a lot of information that we didn’t hear at the time that she is now talking about.  This book is a fantastic insiders account about what really goes on in the church.  She covers the Sea Org (which is pretty much kids doing slave labour), how the church punishes people who don’t follow the rules, and how people go broke and into debt trying to pay for courses at the church.  She talks about how the “higher-ups” of the church seem to operate by their own standards and how things like infidelity and threatening behaviour seem to be par for the course.

There is a lot in this book that I did not know about, especially the stuff about Tom Cruise.  I’m surprised that Leah doesn’t mention John Travolta given that he is a high profile member and there are many stories that are in the media about him.  Tom, along with the head of the church David Miscavige, seem to be her problem.  The stories surrounding Tom’s wedding to Katie, as well as a relationship he had before her, were pretty shocking.

I do wish that she had spoken more about the beliefs of the church.  They can be pretty secret about the different courses and levels and what exactly the church teaches.  I would have liked to hear her input about that.  She is very honest about how people do get taken in by the church and why they stay. I liked how she pointed out the tactics that the church uses, not only to make people stay but to make themselves look better to the rest of the world.

I picked this book up early one morning just after waking and did not get out of bed until I was finished it.  I absolutely could not put it down.  The honesty and candour that Leah is known for jumps right off the page.  And this is a story that is so addictive.  Kudos to Leah for writing this book and for not letting the church silence her the way they have tried to do to so many other people.

Monday, January 4, 2016

"The Crooked Heart of Mercy" by Billie Livingston

Maggie and Ben were madly in love but a terrible tragedy tore them apart.  Now, they are trying to make their way through life separately but neither of them can outrun the pain on their own.

Ben, a limo driver to the wealthy and irresponsible, had a tough upbringing and he finds himself having to care for the man who was never much of a father to him.  His younger brother, Cola, is there to help but is more concerned with the fact that he owes a lot of money to some not very nice people.  And now, Ben has woken up in a hospital with a hole in his head.  He’s the one who put it there, his desperate attempt to escape what is hurting him.  

Maggie stopped working after the tragedy but with the bills mounting up, she must return to her job of caring for seniors.  Her first client, Lucy, is well-meaning but her attempts to help Maggie contact those she has lost are causing too much pain.  Maggie tries to turn to her brother Francis, but he’s dealing with his own troubles, having been the subject of an internet video titled “Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.”  

Maggie and Ben need fixing but they seem to be running from the only thing that will help them heal.  Francis knows that if the two of them are going to find some peace in life, it lies in them reconnecting.

The Crooked Heart of Mercy, by Billie Livingston, is a tender and poignant story of people who are broken and are struggling to put themselves back together.  

This is the first book by Livingston I have read and I picked it up based on the fact that one of her previous books was long listed for the Giller Prize.  I was blown away by the skill of her writing, how beautiful it is.  After reading this book, I realized that there isn’t too much to it in the way of story but her writing - which is honest, real, and emotional - is what makes it a satisfying read.  

There is so much sadness to the book and yet it presents so much hope.  All throughout the book I was thinking of what I would do if I was in Ben and Maggie’s shoes.  I don’t want to speak too much about the tragedy as I think it’s better the reader discovers that themselves, but it is one that hits home and is unimaginable.  Livingston writes this story delicately and respectfully.  

The entire cast of characters was a pleasure to read.  Everyone in this story is dealing with pain and loss in their own ways and all are searching for the same thing but again, in different ways.  Francis brings humour to the book but never at the expense of his own pain or that of the others.  

Beautifully written, thoughtful, and hopeful, this is a quiet and unassuming book that really hits the reader hard emotionally.  A great start to the CanLit scene of 2016.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Look Ahead at 2016

2016 already?!?! I love a new year, especially when it comes to this blog. I love finding out what books are coming out, giving the blog a bit of a refresh, and starting new challenges.  And the new year always means another full year of blogging - I’ve been blogging for six years now!

Just like last year, I’m welcoming in the new year by binge-watching television.  My holidays so far have been spent watching Trollied, The Job Lot, You Me and the Apocalypse, and now I’m going to continue on with my Downton Abbey marathon.

Let’s look ahead at 2016 and see what I’m looking forward to books and blogging-wise.


Over the years I’ve been cutting down on the number of challenges I participate in and this year is no different.  I just don’t think they are for me.  So I will continue with my multi-year challenges and one I complete every year.

Canadian Book Challenge

This one is easy for me to complete as each year I read more and more CanLit.  I really enjoy participating in this one with other CanLit lovers and finding out about so many great books.  The challenge runs from July to July and the goal is to read 13 books.  I’ve already completed 10 books and I’m hoping to read 35 Canadian books this year.

The Classics Club 

I have just over a year and half complete this challenge and I have 40 books left to read.  Umm….yeah, we’ll see how that goes.

Around the World in 80 Books

I also have just over a year and a half to finish this challenge and let’s just say I have a TON of books to read for this one.  I thought it would go much faster, but I’m realizing that as much as my books take me around the world and to every continent, they tend to take me to the same countries.


Last year I tried focusing on some non-bookish things but I found I just continued to gravitate back to book reviews.  This year I’m hoping to do a few more author interviews as I really enjoyed that last year.