Monday, June 13, 2016

"I Let You Go" by Clare Mackintosh

When Jenna Gray’s life changed in a split second, the world became too much for her to handle. Knowing the only way she would be able put it all behind her was to escape, and so she left her home to live in a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. But no matter how far from home she was, she couldn’t escape the events of that terrible night in November.

The detectives investigating the case couldn’t just walk away. Though there were few leads, they knew that if they just kept with it long enough, there would be a breakthrough. And when that happens, the past comes crashing back down on Jenna just as she thinks she may once again be able to experience a little happiness in her life.

I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh, is a heartbreaking, thrill ride of a novel that will have you hooked with every twist and turn.

Whenever someone asks me if I have read this book, all I can say is “yes and wow.” This book gets a big, huge “WOW” from me. It is incredible. Twice, I gasped so loud that I was glad I was on my own. Had I reacted the way I did while reading this book on the bus (where I do a lot of reading), I definitely would have turned the heads of everyone on board.

The twists in this book are absolutely amazing and that just goes to show how good the writing is. A co-worker noticed I was reading it and asked me how it was. At that point, I was just over a hundred pages in and my reply was that while I was enjoying it, I couldn’t quite figure out where it was going and why everyone was really excited about the book. The next morning I picked it up, got to the end of part one, cue the first gasp and that was it, I was hooked. I ended up reading the rest of the book (200+ pages) in that one sitting.

This book has everything I look for in a psychological thriller. It keeps you guessing which keeps you hooked, everything unfolds at the right pace, and when you do find out what is really going on you are shocked. I may still be new to this whole genre but to me, this is the best of the best in the genre. I know that other books are being declared “this year’s Girl on the Train” but I think that this book blows that tag out of the water. 

It is so hard to discuss this book without giving away any of the storyline. And that should not happen at all. This is such a fantastic reading experience and the twists are what make it amazing. So I definitely wouldn’t want to let anything slip in this review and thus will stay away from any discussion of the actual plot. Just know that I think this book is fantastic and I highly recommend it. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

"I Almost Forgot About You" by Terry McMillan

Dr. Georgia Young has the life many dream of - she has a great career, wonderful family, and close friends that she can depend on no matter where life takes her. But that doesn’t stop her from feeling stuck in a very large rut. It’s time, Georgia has decided, for some major change.

When Georgia quits her job and puts her house up for sale, she’s positive she is taking steps that will turn her life around. But it’s when she decides to look up all the loves of her life, good and bad, and see how they are doing that her life really ends up changed. 

I Almost Forgot About You, by Terry McMillan, is a moving and very relatable novel about revisiting the past and opening yourself up to whatever it has in store for your future.

Terry McMillan is a very special writer to me. When I was sixteen I came across her novel Mama on the shelves at my school library. From the very first pages I was hooked and I made it my mission to read everything she had written until that point. It only took me about two weeks to get through the four books. That was a pretty big deal considering I was at a point where I was turned off of reading fiction. Ms. McMillan reignited the love of reading I had as a child and I have never forgotten that. 

Since then, I’ve made sure to read every book she writes and I have never been disappointed by her. I love how in her writing it is clear the audience her books are aimed at and yet at the same time they transcend cultures and age groups. I like how her characters have aged over the years, the same way that us readers have. I can’t think of any other readers who understands their characters and their audience as well as McMillan does.

I really like the concept of looking back at the past loves of your life and getting in touch with them to let them know how much they meant to you (I mean, I love the concept in a book, not that I’m actually going to do that myself.) But the strength of this plot is that McMillan knows how to write characters of an appropriate age. I can see so many people coming up with this concept but for a woman in her twenties or her thirties. With that age, it would just seem flighty. But McMillan understands that for it to really work, it needs to be a woman who has experienced love, loss, and life. That’s who Georgia Young is. That’s why this was such an easy and enjoyable read.

While there is little about this character that my own life relates to, I felt like I was right there in the story with her, understanding what she was going through, and cheering her on. This is a great story about a woman who has finished the first part of her life and is looking at what is next. You don’t need to be in the same place in life as Georgia, the themes of this book are universal. Who doesn’t sit and wonder about all the loves of their life? If you have ever looked up a former flame on Facebook, or even just entertained the thought of it, this is the novel for you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"The Assistants" by Camille Perri

Thirty-year-old Tina Fontana is great at her job. As the executive assistant to the CEO of a multinational media conglomerate, she spends her days making reservations, pouring drinks, and putting out small, ridiculous fires. Her boss loves her, trusts her, and couldn't function without her. But things aren't going well for Tina. The glamour of her job is long gone and her student loan debt and inability to pay the rent has stuck around.

One day, while preparing expense reports for her boss, Tina realizes that a technical error has put enough money into her bank account to pay off all of her debt. She should let someone know of the error, but she also realizes that her boss has so much money he would never notice what is missing. Against her will, Tina lets a few others in on what happened and they begin to pay off debts for other assistants around the company. Very quickly, what started out as one little indiscretion turns into a movement that Tina can’t quite contain.

The Assistants, by Camille Perri, is a fun call to arms for the overeducated and underpaid generation that can’t quite seem to make that breakthrough in their career and who feel as though they are doomed to make coffee for others for the rest of their lives.

First off, I have to say that the colour of the book cover is absolutely gorgeous. Every time I pass by it at the bookstore I am drawn to it. It had been a while since I had read some good chick lit so I thought I would give in to the cover completely and give it a go. I like the plot of this book because it is very timely. There are a lot of well-educated people out there who cannot find jobs that their education prepared them for and who are taking on jobs that just barely let them scrape by each month, let alone pay off their massive student debt.

The idea that the women in the book come up with to pay off their loans is a fun part of the story. However, the book lost me with the writing. I don’t know if it was because the writing in the book I had read previous to this was so beautiful and descriptive, but I found the writing in this book very plain and at times it did not even seem correct to me. Some pop culture references felt like they were just thrown in because that is standard to the genre and the plot is completely predictable. I honestly felt as though this book was rushed, as in this is a good idea so let’s get this book to print as fast as we can.

This book is a quick read and it is definitely fun but it did not blow me away compared to other  novels of the type (I’m thinking The Devil Wears Prada, etc.) It seems from the reading the acknowledgements that this book may become a movie and I honestly believe that this would be a fantastic film. With the right cast it could be a ton of fun. So I hope that it does get the movie treatment because the idea is great but the book just didn’t work for me.

Monday, June 6, 2016

"The House of Wives" by Simon Choa-Johnston

In 1862, a young Jewish man has set sail from his home in Calcutta, heading toward Hong Kong  to participate in the opium trade. Emmanuel has left behind his wife Semah, promising to return to her having made his fortune. But while he is in Hong Kong, he falls in love with Pearl, the daughter of his Chinese business partner. He takes Pearl as his wife and builds her the most beautiful mansion anyone has ever seen in Hong Kong.

But Semah refuses to let Emmanuel have his new life and she arrives unannounced in Hong Kong to take her rightful place as mistress of the house. Neither woman wants to share their home or their husband but neither is willing to give up their place as his wife and very quickly, life changes for all of those who live in the house. 

Inspiredly the lives of his own ancestors, The House of Wives by Simon Choa-Johnston is a beautiful novel about two women who will do whatever it takes to secure a place for their children in the upper echelons of the British Crown colony.

There are many things that drew me to this book. First was the setting and the time period as they are both things I do not know much about or have read about. I was also drawn to the fact that this book is by a Canadian writer and it is the story of his ancestors, something for which he spent much time travelling and doing research. And the plot line of the two wives of one man living together in the same home was truly interesting. Everything that drew me to this book wrapped up into one truly lovely read.

I thought going into this book that I would feel an allegiance to one wife or the other. It just seems when you read the plot of this book that such a thing would happen, that you would want to pick one over the other and that you would want to dislike Emmanuel for putting the women into this situation. But there is so much depth to this book, so much to the story that you end up feeling allegiance to all of the characters. Even though this is a real life story based on his family history, you can see how much of the story Choa-Johnston had to craft and yet, how effortless it feels. All of the characters are well-developed and fully human, rather than just people on a page.

I learned so much from this book about a culture and time period that I haven't read much about, mainly the Jewish communities in India and the opium trade between India and China. The writing in this book is so beautiful and descriptive, the reading experience is so rich. I had read before I started reading that Choa-Johnston is a playwright and that is evident from the writing. A beautiful and interesting story.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

"Sirocco: Fabulous Flavours from the Middle East" by Sabrina Ghayour

Sirocco - origin: early 17th century, from Italian scirocco, based on Spanish Arabic sharq meaning “east wind.” A hot, dry wind blowing from east to west; sometimes described as warm, spicy, and sultry.

When the East and the West are combined in the oven, delicious foods are created. In Sirocco: Fabulous Flavours from the Middle East, food writer and self-taught cook Sabrina Ghayour combines the foods she knew growing up in England with the Eastern flavours of her Persian heritage. These recipes aren’t authentically Middle Eastern but they are inspired by the beautiful spices and dishes that come out of the region.

There is an incredible Turkish restaurant not too far from where I live and if I could eat there every day I would. But I can’t, so when I saw this cookbook I knew that it would be the perfect book for a novice chef like me to recreate the foods I love so much from that restaurant. This is a great book for the Western cook that wants to introduce Middle Eastern cuisine to their repertoire. 

Ghayour begins the book by sharing the must-have Eastern spices that are lesser known in the West such as Aleppo pepper and Za’atar. For each recipe she discusses the origins, flavours, and importance of the dish so it’s not just about cooking a dish but understanding the rich cuisine and heritage of the Middle East. 

I also really like that Ghayour is a self-taught cook, I think it is evident throughout the book and she understands that the people who are using her cookbook are as well. The recipes are easy to follow and each recipe has a wonderful explanation of its place in the culture and what she loves about the flavours, as well as lots of personal stories. And the photos are absolutely spectacular, this is a very beautiful cookbook.

Whenever I get a cookbook, I sit down first and flip through the whole thing, using sticky notes to mark pages.  I have one colour for recipes that interest me and another colour for recipes I must try right away. Let’s just say that this book is filled with sticky notes of both colours, more than any other cookbook I own.  There is something for everyone in here, for vegetarians and meat-eaters, for rookie cooks and master chefs. This is a great book for anyone who wants to dive into the delicious world of Middle Eastern cuisine. 

And with recipes named Cardamom Doughnut Brioche French Toasts, Merguez Sausage Rolls, Za’atar and Goat Cheese Puffs, and Sour Cherry and Ricotta Pancakes, this book is truly East meets West.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Month In Review

In my last Month in Review I mentioned that I've been having trouble on the blogging front, just getting the time to sit down and write reviews and keep the blog updated. I was hoping to fix that in May but evidently that didn't happen. I once again read some great books this month but I just haven't had the time at the computer. I have a lot of reviews to write and I absolutely pledge to do all that this month.

Here is what I read in May with my GoodReads ratings:

Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi *****
The Couple Next Door - Shari LaPena ****
The House of Wives - Simon Choa-Johnston ****
Kay's Lucky Coin Variety - Ann Y.K. Choi ****
The Assistants - Camille Perri ***
The Translation of Love - Lynne Kutsukake ***

I have already declared Homegoing my favourite book of 2016. I honestly don't think any book will come close to it for the rest of the year. It's destined to become a classic. I read some great Diverse CanLit this month with The House of Wives, Kay's Lucky Coin Variety, and The Translation of Love.  The Couple Next Door, which comes out in August, is a great thriller written by a Canadian author. And while the idea was great, The Assistants wasn't quite what I had hoped for but I do think that it could be made into a great movie.

What I'm Looking Forward to in June
I have a huge (physical) pile of books next to my bed to read and I'm really just hoping for the time this month to get through them all. I have just started I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and I'm also looking forward to reading The Girls by Emma Cline. Other than that I'm going to just let the month see where it takes me reading-wise rather than planning in advance.