Monday, August 15, 2016

"Three Years with the Rat" by Jay Hosking

A young man has moved back to Toronto, the city he grew up in, after years of drifting between school and work that was getting him nowhere. His older sister, Grace, is the one who has brought him back home and she and her friends take him under their wing, helping him find friendship, romance, and a job.

Grace and her boyfriend John are promising researchers in psychophysics but it soon becomes apparent to the man that all is not well with his sister and her research. When the two of them disappear, first Grace then months later John, the man makes an incredible discovery while cleaning out their apartment. In the second bedroom that they always kept locked, Grace and John have left behind a box big enough to crawl inside of, a lab, rat, and a note that says “this is the only way back for us.”

After months of witnessing Grace’s rage and John’s mental health decline, the man knows that these are not ordinary circumstances. And he knows that he was brought back to Toronto for a mission. He has to discover the truth behind their research and he has to save his sister. As he digs deeper into a notebook left behind he knows that ultimately he can do this by entering the box himself. And his mission becomes one that will bend both time and space, throwing into question everything he has ever known about the universe.

Three Years with the Rat, the debut novel by Jay Hosking, is an addictive story that flows across genres to create one very interesting novel. 

From the moment I read the blurb about this book I was absolutely intrigued. I’m not much of a speculative fiction reader. I have given the genre a try many times and while I have enjoyed what I have read, it’s never been one that I naturally drift toward. It’s just not for me. But when a book comes along that leaps across genres, I’m very interested to see how well it is going to do. I think of The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, how it was able to blend the science fiction dimension of time travel with romance. I was absolutely hooked on that novel as I think it was the perfect combination for me. I guess it’s a sort of watered down science fiction that I can really get into. When I first read the blurb that was immediately what I thought this book would be. And it was.

This book was the perfect blend of genres. The relationships are what drive the book, between the narrator and Grace, Grace and John, the narrator and his girlfriend. The backstories of their families and how they shaped them into what they have become are all well thought out and well-written. These are characters who are richly developed, who have stories the reader can connect to, but who have also figured out a way to bend time and space. That’s a pretty cool combination in my opinion. And it was done so well in this book.

Some of the science in the book went a little over my head (which when it comes to science, probably isn’t that difficult to do.) I think for the most part it was well explained for people who don’t have a background in the area but there is a lot of science and philosophy to the book that at some points made me feel as though you really need to have some interest in it to fully appreciate the book.

I read this book mostly as I commuted to and from work as well as on my break at work. It’s written in short bursts, jumps back and forth between the three year period but is very easy to follow. This is a great book to pick up if you are looking for something intriguing to read but aren’t able to devote only one or two sittings to it. 

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

"The Girls in the Garden" by Lisa Jewell

When Clare moves into a new home with her eleven-year-old daughter Pip and thirteen-year-old daughter Grace, she is pleased to find that the private garden square they back on to is shared by other families with children around the same age. In the bustling city of London, the garden is a place where children can roam free and are encouraged to make other people’s homes their own. Especially the home of Adele, Leo, and their three daughters.

Clare and her daughters are starting over and the girls are thrilled to quickly fall in with the crowd of kids. Clare isn’t sure she will fit in with the adults, but is happy her daughters have made friends. It may be a motley group of kids but everyone seems nice enough. Until Grace becomes the girlfriend of one of the boys in the group and runs afoul of a couple of the other girls.

One summer night, after the annual party in the garden, Pip discovers Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a tucked away area of the park. No one knows what happened to Grace and as Clare and Pip try to dig around for information, they discover that a few people know more than they are letting on and this isn’t the first time something like this happened in the garden.

The Girls in the Garden, by Lisa Jewell, is an intriguing mystery that will have readers wondering how well you can really know your neighbours and friends.

This book was an interesting read for me. There was so much that I really liked about it but at the end of the day the way in which it was set out made it just an okay read. Let’s start at the beginning. I love the premise. As someone who lives in a major city, the idea of having a home that backs on to a private communal garden sounds like heaven. A park in your backyard that only your neighbours can access? Lovely. A place in the city where kids can be free and parents don’t have to worry? Almost unheard of. But of course, it’s not as perfect as it seems.

There are lots of secrets that surround the garden, especially from the past. Ones that a newcomer like Clare wouldn’t know about but should. Even Adele, who has lived there for years doesn’t know all of the secrets it holds. This is the first part of the book, setting up the situation of the garden, introducing the people who live there and their backstories, setting up for the major incident to come. But it’s a lot of setup. And when the incident does come, it is only alluded to quickly. 

The second part of the book is the fallout of the incident in the garden. The problem with the book is this doesn’t get as much time as the setup. In fact, everything is tied up very quick and very neat. Which is disappointing. The writing is great and the first part emotionally prepares you for what is to come but it’s like what you are expecting never arrives. If this part of the book was developed further then it would have been an outstanding book. And I personally feel that the first part could have been cut down so that the second part could have been expanded upon. 

I couldn’t tell if this book was trying to be a thriller or if it was trying to be a novel about characters that happened to have a bit of a mystery to it. This left me wanting more. There is no doubt that Lisa Jewell is a talented writer and in the first part of the book she crafts a beautiful story of very different people living together. I was heavily invested in all of the characters and their surroundings. But the half-hearted development of the second part left me wanting so much more.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up

Reviewed This Week

The Hopefuls - Jennifer Close
The Girls - Emma Cline
Falling - Jane Green

Read This Week

Wellth - Jason Wachob
Where’d You Go Bernadette - Maria Semple
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1 - Brandon Montclair
The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead (started)

Online bits and bobs

CBC Books released their Fall Preview. So many good books, my TBR exploded.

Apparently, people who read books live longer. Here's to an extra 10 years!

I've spent some time with my Pinterest page. By that I mean, I stopped ignoring it.

I've joined Reco. Because I apparently I need another bookish app to keep me busy. But seriously, this is a good one.

Stories from the Bookshop
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that last Sunday was the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I didn’t work that day but I did work the next day (and the days after that) and it’s safe to say that Harry was the most popular guy at the mall this past week. The reaction to it has been interesting, quite a few people were surprised that it was a script and not a novel and they didn’t like that. But for the most part, everyone seemed to be happy to have Harry back in their lives again.
Books I was told I must read by customers: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, anything by Sue Grafton.

Screen time

When we were in the US, we kept seeing commercials for Wrecked so the husband and I decided to give it a go. Two episodes in it's a cute and sometimes funny show. I'm always watching Coronation Street but it has been pretty amazing lately. And the family finally saw Finding Dory. Dare I say I liked it more than Nemo?

Friday, August 5, 2016

"Falling" by Jane Green

Emma Montague is looking for a new life, one far from her days as a banker in New York City where she moved to escape the confines of her upper-class British family.  When she finds a cottage in the beautiful town of Westport, Connecticut that is in need of a lot of TLC, she knows she has found the perfect place. She can leave the fast-paced and stressful world of finance behind and pursue her passion for interior design.

Knowing only one other person in town, Emma throws herself into fixing up the cottage, much to the dismay of her landlord and next door neighbour Dominic. But she quickly wins Dominic over and when he lends her a hand, she realizes that the two of them make a great team. And not just at fixing up houses.

Dominic isn’t the type of man that Emma usually goes for but that doesn’t stop her from falling for him. As they spend more and more time together, she realizes that in him and his six-year-old son she has found the family she has always wanted. But the circumstances of their lives mean things won’t be easy for them. The mother of his child fled shortly after he was born but now she has come back to town looking to be in her sons life. And Emma’s mother isn’t exactly about to welcome Dominic, a bartender, into their upper class world. When her strength is put to the test, will she give up and go back to what she has always known or will she stay and fight for what she loves?

Falling is the newest novel from best-selling author Jane Green. Touching and heart-warming, it is the story of a woman who leaves behind everything she knows in search of the life she has always wanted.

This is the quintessential love story. It’s about the love between a man and woman and also the love of family. It’s about finding a family when you’re not looking for it. It’s girl meets boy, they fall in love, become the perfect instant family, but then difficulties hit and you’re left wondering if they’re going to make it (but deep down inside you know that they are.)

I really enjoyed reading this book. As I began reading it felt like it was going to be one of those books where I would know everything that was going to happen. And for much of the book I was right. Then something happened that threw a wrench in that and I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it (good thing I was on vacation.) So while the book can feel a little formulaic, it’s doesn’t take away from it. 

My only criticism of the book is that the ending is very rushed. Which is a shame because that is such a beautiful part of the story and it really deserved more pages. I would have preferred more of what happened at the end than the set-up of the relationship that dominated most of the book.

The reading experience of this book totally reminded me of JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You. Both were books I wasn’t sure I wanted to read (just not the type of book I tend to pick up) but once I had started it, I was hooked. And both were very emotional reads for me. In the past I have been underwhelmed by Green’s books (my sister is always recommending them to me) but this book took me on an emotional ride and it was a beautiful read.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"The Girls" by Emma Cline

One hot summer day, fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd comes across a group of girls at the park who are unlike no others she has even seen. Dressed carelessly, dirty, searching through dumpsters for food, stealing from stores, Evie is immediately drawn to the girls. A lonely girl herself, she is envious of their freedom and the way they move through life with wondrous abandon. This is a group of girls she wants to be friends with.

Evie is quickly drawn into their circle through the care and attention of one of the older girls named Suzanne. Evie is mesmerized by Suzanne who gives her access to a world she never knew existed. She goes with them to the ranch hidden away in the hills of California that they live in and meets the groups charismatic leader Russell. 

Evie truly believes that this is where she belongs, not back home with her parents who couldn’t care less and the friends who have turned against her. As she spends more and more time with this group, she desires to stay forever in a place where anyone can belong. But what Evie does not realize is that this group is on a course that will make them infamous for years to come and one which will end in heartbreaking tragedy.

The Girls, by Emma Cline, is a dark and haunting yet beautifully written debut novel. Loosely based on the Manson Family, it is the story of a disillusioned girl who is looking to belong and is swept up by an alternative group of people.

I picked up this book because it was on every single must read list of 2016 and you know when it is on every list, the chances of it being amazing are pretty high. Very quickly, I could see why everyone was talking about this book. The writing is absolutely incredible and Cline weaves a very good story. This is one of those books where most people will be saying “it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel.” It feels as though Cline has been writing bestsellers for years. 

In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the book and that came down to what my expectations of the book were. I thought that this book was going to be more about the cult and the violence they committed and that was what I wanted to read about (going into the book I really wasn’t all that familiar with Charles Manson and the Manson Family other than knowing what they were famous for.) I wanted to understand the motivations of the group and the moments that led up to the crimes. That is a very small part of the book and definitely not the main focus. So the book felt like a long set-up to an event that gets very little page-time.

It took a long time for me to get past my expectations of the book but when I finally did I was able to see it for the beautiful and harrowing read that it is. It is hard to believe that Evie is only fourteen years old with the life she leads and the way she is able to get swept up into the group without her parents noticing or really caring. It is understandable though why groups like this are able to form, with charismatic people preying upon young people who are in search of something but aren’t quite sure what it is they are looking for. 

I thought it was an interesting choice to have the book take place in both present and past. But I felt that the book could have been stronger if it either stayed in the past or if we got a little bit more of the present. I like that we are able to see how this one year at such a tender age affected her for the rest of her life. But it just seems like we weren’t given enough to fully understand how present-day Evie feels about who she was or what the group did. There are bits of that but I wanted either more or none at all.

This wasn’t a runaway hit for me, but it wasn’t a bad read either. I read through it pretty quickly as the writing flowed from page to page and it was easy to get lost in the story. But I was disappointed by the lack of story and was looking for a lot more from this book. That being said, I mentioned it to a co-worker who then read the book and loved it so much she went back and read Helter Skelter right after. She very much enjoyed this book so I don’t hesitate to recommend it to others. Just know that book is inspired by the Manson murders and not a fictional re-telling. I think the quality of this book is determined by the expectations we go into it with. 

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Month In Review

July was a great month for me reading-wise because it was my vacation month. We spent two weeks in America and that always results in a high number of books read for me because I love nothing more than reading by the pool. Of course, I didn’t finish ALL of the books I took with me on vacation but that’s because I always seem to take more with me than I could ever read in that time period.

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

Flawfully Wedded Wives - Shana Burton ****
Falling - Jane Green ****
The Pastor’s Husband - Tiffany L. Warren ****
The Hopefuls - Jennifer Close ****
Whisky, Words, and a Shovel - R.H. Sin ****
In the Language of Miracles - Rajia Hassib ****
A Very Accidental Love Story - Claudia Carroll ***
The Girls in the Garden - Lisa Jewell ***

My favourite of the month was The Hopefuls. It is a fun and easy read that I found myself completely engrossed in. I think Falling is going to be the book I recommend to people who liked Me Before You and are looking for something similar. And while I’m not much of a poetry reader, I absolutely enjoyed Whisky, Words, and a Shovel. I spent much of my time with the book reading it aloud to anyone who was around me. I picked it up because many people have come into my bookstore looking for it and I was curious what the big deal was. Now I get it.

What I’m Looking Forward to in August
I’m excited to read the 4th book in Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series, Umbrella Man. I started reading the series right when the first book was released and I’m always (im)patiently waiting for the next book to be released. I’m looking forward to reading I’m Your Biggest Fan by Kate Coyne, executive editor of People Magazine because I love books about celebrity culture. And I’ve had Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien on my nightstand for a little while and now that it’s been long listed for the Man Booker Prize, I think it’s a good time to read it.

State of the Blog
The poor, neglected, ignored blog. I’ve been trying and trying over the past six months to find a work/blog balance. Or really, to find time to dedicate to the blog when I’m working. I’ve decided to give bullet journalling/planning a go and I’ve created one that is solely for my blog. I’m writing in everything ahead of time - reviews, posts, tweets, IG posts - so that even when things get busy at work and home, it won’t take too much of my time to care for my blog. Here’s hoping this is what will work for me.

Monday, August 1, 2016

"The Hopefuls" by Jennifer Close

When Beth Kelly moves from New York City to Washington D.C. after her husband Matt gets a job at the White House, she is less than thrilled. She loved everything about New York City and the people there were her people. In D.C., it seems to Beth that everyone is obsessed with politics and if you’re not one of them you’re on the outside looking in. In a place where people like to compare their security clearance levels, speak in acronyms, and can’t separate themselves from their Blackberries, Beth is all on her own.

But when Beth and Matt meet White House staffer Jimmy and his wife Ashleigh, things begin to brighten for her a little bit. Right from the beginning Ashleigh and Beth get each other, they connect over being outsiders, and before long are doing everything together. Jimmy and Matt get along perfectly and push each other to succeed in the fast-paced world of politics. The foursome quickly become inseparable spending meals, birthdays, and holidays together.

When Jimmy decides to run for local office, a dream Matt has always held for himself, he asks Matt to move across the country and manage his campaign for him. It only makes sense that the four of them take this on together. But one year spent living, travelling, and campaigning together takes its toll on the foursome. Before they know it their friendship is put to the test, threatened by jealousy and competition. And even more damaged is Beth and Matt’s marriage which may not survive the campaign.

The Hopefuls, by Jennifer Close, is a light, fun, and addictive read about politics and relationships. Set in the fast-paced world of Washington, D.C. and surrounded by the optimism and hope of the Obama campaign and administration, this book is a wonderful look at friendship that will have you invested from beginning to end.

July was the perfect time to release this book, this is a quintessential summer read. A book about friendship and marriage set in the always moving world of Washington D.C., this is one that readers will not want to put down. The writing is easy and it flows well through short bursts. I often found myself amazed at how much I had just read in one sitting because it was easy to get caught up in the story.

The strength of this book is its thoughtfulness when it comes to relationships. The book focuses on two aspects - marriages and friendships between couples. When Beth and Matt move to Washington it seems like a great start for the both of them. Beth has lost her job and Matt is eager to work in politics, a lifelong dream. But while Matt quickly and easily slips into life in D.C., things are a little more difficult for Beth. She can’t find a writing job comparable to what she had back in New York and she has nothing in common with the people she comes into contact with through Matt’s work. As she spends more and more time at home and on her own, she becomes increasingly bored and lonely.

It is their close friendship with Jimmy and Ashleigh that pulls Beth out of her funk. Ashleigh understands exactly what Beth is going through and their bond develops over this. Jimmy and Matt’s bond develops over their work and shared passions, and pretty soon the four of them are inseparable. But all friendships are put to the test and what happens when there is more than one relationship at stake? This is the strength of the novel. This isn’t about perfect people or perfect relationships. This is about how we form our relationships. It’s about getting to know the best and worst traits of the people we are connected to, how are relationships exist under pressure, and whether or not those relationships can survive when it all hits the fan. 

Is this book a little light on plot? Sure but that’s not what this book is about. When you think of a book set in Washington, you think of a bit more drama but that is not needed here. This is a book about relationships and it shines bright in this aspect. 

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