Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

After reading urban fantasy novels, I’ve been really wanting to find more books in this genre. It’s so different from high fantasy and stories set in alternate worlds … and it’s really addictive once you get into it! I was super excited to receive this ARC so here is my review:

Greta Helsing is a doctor with a very unusual patient pool: she treats the undead. Whether it is a vocal strain a banshee or entropy in mummies, Greta is known for her skill. After all, this is what she has been groomed for since childhood. But when a sect of murderous monks emerge, Greta is overwhelmed by the deaths of the undead AND humans. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must put her unusual skills to work to stop this cult from ruining her life.

I so so so badly wanted to like this book, you really have no idea! It seemed like the perfect book for me, with its cool protagonist and story setting. However, I just couldn’t get into this story. No matter how hard I tried, it all was just too bizarre. The switching of voices between characters was very jarring and it was hard to keep it straight in my head. One minute, the story seemed like it was set in Victorian times and the next minute, it seemed way more modern. It all just threw me off and I couldn’t enjoy myself. There are a lot of positive reviews on GoodReads so maybe this is just one of those times where I am in the minority. If this book’s premise sounds like something you would like, give it a shot!

Happy reading ~

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is a very popular author known for his haunting stories. It’s a bit embarrassing that it has taken me so long to read anything by him but I’ve finally done it! And I decided to choose his newest novel for my first foray!

Annalee Ahlberg is a sleepwalker and her affliction is a point of concern for her family. They never know where she will go or what she will do when she’s asleep at night. When she goes missing, it’s her family’s worst nightmare. The morning of her disappearance, a search party tears apart the woods. Annalee’s husband, Warren, hurries home from a business trip. Annalee’s eldest daughter, Lianna, is questioned by detectives. And youngest daughter Paige takes it upon herself to search for clues. When the police find a small swatch of fabric from a nightshirt, it seems certain that Annalee is dead. However, young detective Gavin Rikert continues to persist and keeps calling the Ahlbergs. As Lianna tries to support her family and finds herself drawn to Gavin, she tries to make sense of her mother’s disappearance. Where did Annalee go? What is it that drives her out of her bed every time her father leaves? And why is Gavin so interested in Annalee’s disappearance?

This was a very interesting story to read. I really don’t know much about sleepwalking and the many ways it manifests itself, and the author managed to explain all of its details without making it boring. The story is mainly told from Lianna’s perspective, as she struggles to keep herself and her family afloat in the aftermath of her mother’s disappearance. Interspersed between these chapters that tell us how life is continuing are excerpts from the journal of a sleepwalker; the identity of this sleepwalker remains a mystery until the very end of the book. In the beginning, this novel had hints of a mystery but seemed to be more of a character-driven story. While I didn’t like any of the characters per se, I liked their honest portrayal and how each character was unique. The story unfolds slowly but it reels you in the whole time. My one complaint is that Lianna was not strong in her ability to connect things and deduce things but the author still made everything work. The last bit of the novel moved quite quickly and the revelations, which I had pretty much guessed by that point, were delivered quite well. Overall, this has been a good experience for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by Chris Bohjalian!

Happy reading ~

The Dry by Jane Harper

I know that I’ve been a lot slower in reading books and posting books, and I can assure you that it isn’t due to a lack of reading material (I am up to my eyeballs in books!) But there is a lot going on in my lab and in terms of course work so my reading has taken a bit of a back seat. However, I am planning on making up for it by reading a lot more this weekend so hopefully it all works out. Anyways, enough excuses, here is my review!

20 years ago, Aaron Falk and his family were driven out of their hometown of Kiewarra. Aaron moved to Melbourne and eventually got a job as a Federal Police investigator, hoping to never have a reason to visit that vicious place. But then he discovers that his childhood friend, Luke, is dead. What’s more, Luke is said to have killed his wife and son before committing suicide, leaving behind only his infant daughter. With this shocking news comes a cryptic letter from Luke’s father saying “You lied. Luke lied. Come to the funeral.” Aaron arrives but only plans to stay for one day. But his investigative skills are called on by Luke’s parents – and that’s when he realizes that the murder-suicide charge may not fit the bill. As Falk probes deeper into the murders, old wounds begin to reveal themselves. Because Falk and Luke shared a secret, one that they thought was long-buried but has finally been brought to the surface…

I wasn’t expecting to like this novel as much as I did; in fact, when I first began to read, I thought that this novel would be just like every other thriller. But that impression soon changed. This book had my attention after just one chapter and I raced through it (surreptitiously, of course, so that my supervisor wouldn’t see me reading!) in just a few hours. What an excellent novel! It was thought-provoking, had great pacing, a really polished writing style, and wonderfully fleshed-out characters. Everything about this novel worked. This is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a novel that takes its time to draw out the tension, reveal all of the different characters and their motives, show how inner secrets can fester and become an obsession. It makes the story very believable and emotionally-packed. It makes the reader WANT to invest the time to engage with the novel – and this novel is definitely engaging! I cannot (and will not!) stop raving about the way the author developed each character, made them stand out in your mind, and made them important to the reader and to the story itself. I never found myself forgetting about who a character was, or wondering why a character was mentioned. It all made sense. The plot was also amazing in that it flowed logically and came to a very satisfying conclusion; there are few things I value more than that in a book! This novel is best described as an experience, because it makes the reader feel like a part of the story. When the author describes the heat, I find myself sweating. As the author depicts certain interactions between different characters, I feel like I am physically present. I can go on and on about this book, but I think it’s best if you read and judge for yourself. Overall, a masterful book with perfect flow, deep characters, and a satisfying story.

Happy reading ~

Goblin by Ever Dundas

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I read a premise that is just straight-up weird, I can’t resist the urge to read the book. The premise itself becomes the mystery and my curiosity won’t let me rest until I discover what it is all about. That was how I felt when I came across this novel and so, I was very glad to have received this book through NetGalley and the publishers!

Goblin is an outcast girl growing up in London during World War 2. She is rejected by her mother, ignored by her father, and only finds solace in the company of her older brother and her animals. After witnessing a shocking event, Goblin retreats into a self-constructed imaginary world where she can be safe. And so begins her feral life amidst the wreckage of London, with only her family of abandoned animals to keep her company.
It is now 2011, and an elderly Goblin receives an unwanted phone call to return to London amidst the riots. But returning means facing the ghosts of her past, something which she may not have the strength for. Will she finally discover the truth she has been hiding from?

I think calling this novel a blend between fantasy and reality might be a bit of a stretch. And the reason that I say this is because it misled me a great deal. From the premise, I thought that I would be reading about a girl who flits back and forth between different realms and it is up to the reader to discover which is the truth. The novel is better depicted as flitting between past and present, and there is always this feeling that something is being hidden from the reader and from the protagonist herself. Yes, she makes up things and creates her own reality, but I wouldn’t go so far as to portray it as a fantasy because technically, not much of what she says is fake. Most of it is real. Aside from this contradiction, I really did enjoy this story. It is deep and complex, and you get lost in Goblin’s world. She is a unique character, one that I have never really encountered and seeing things from her perspective is just such a bizarre and amazing experience. Her life is absolutely ridiculous in its trajectory but that’s what keeps the story moving, and keeps the interest of the reader. As the story continued to build, and the digging for the truth begins, the author ramps up the tension – and this is done beautifully, by the way. I was holding my breath, turning the pages as fast as I could until I finally reached the end. And the ending was abrupt, I won’t lie, but it worked because this is just one of those books that doesn’t really follow the rules. In short, I think this was a very interesting novel that takes place during World War 2 and features a very unique female protagonist; however, if you are expecting some major fantasy elements, then you may find yourself disappointed.

Happy reading ~

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

This is a novel that caught my eye when I was at my local bookstore. I remember seeing its cover, reading its title, and then reaching over to grab the book and read the premise on its back cover. It hooked me. I wasn’t able to buy it that day but it stayed in my mind for 2 months, and I just managed to make the time to read it now. After all of that buildup, I’m happy to say that the novel met my approval.

When Jessica’s mother passes away, it becomes her responsibility to go through her mother’s belongings. In the basement freezer, Jessica makes a shocking discovery: there are 2 dead girls inside. She immediately recognizes them as a pair of foster children who lived with her family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng, two troubled and beautiful teenage sisters from Vancouver. During their time at Jessica’s home, they wreaked all manner of havoc before finally disappearing. Everyone thought they had simply run away. Clearly, they hadn’t. As Jessica tries to piece together the life of Casey and Jamie, she begins to see another side to her mother, Donna. The truths she discovers will make her question her own life choices, as she decides what she will do with her future.

This novel is not a thriller. I feel like I need to put that out there because most people (myself included) will read about the 2 dead girls and automatically assume that this story will be a whodunnit mystery. This story is a reflective one, with complex characters and multiple storylines that converge to put the picture together. We read about the struggle of Casey and Jamie’s parents, Chinese immigrants who struggle to make a life in Canada. We read about young love and the dangerous world we live in. We read about guilt and betrayals and family secrets that can scar someone for life. We read about the different factors that lead to a person making specific choices, choices that shape one’s personality. This story travels from past to present, between different perspectives, with mini-segments that talk about what led to the final moments in the lives of Casey and Jamie. All the while, we see Jessica try to grapple with the image of the mother she has always adored with the woman she now sees coming into the limelight. And through this struggle, we see growth and peace. I liked the reflective nature of this novel, with its pacing and its interesting writing style. I found it intriguing in a way that is very different from your usual thriller or mystery. This story made me think, and it stayed with me long after I read it. When a book makes a strong impact on your mind, then you know it’s a good one. I definitely enjoyed it, and this is going on my must-buy shelf!

Happy reading ~

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I was little, I wanted to be a twin. I am not ashamed to admit that I went through a Mary Kate-and-Ashley phase. While I resigned myself to my fate of never having a twin, it hasn’t stopped me from getting excited about any novel that features them! That, along with the interesting premise, caught my eye with this book. Anyways, here I go with my review:

Ava Antipova has many reasons for leaving her hometown and running away to Paris: a failing winery business, a romantic betrayal, a manipulative and crazy sister, an absent father, and a mother suffering from dementia and alcoholism. In Paris, Ava can finally shed her past and be free. But after a mere 2 years, she is called back home. Her twin sister, Zelda, is dead. All Ava knows is that Zelda was staying at home and taking care of the family vineyard and mother, when she was allegedly burned alive in the barn because of an accident. But knowing her sister, Ava suspects that there is more to this story. Everything is too neat, too perfect, too Zelda. And when she receives a cryptic message from her dead sister, Ava knows she was correct. This is one more game to Zelda, and this time she has outdone herself. Through a series of clues that Zelda leaves behind specifically for her, Ava follows the trail and uncovers Zelda’s life and all of the drama she is involved in. Along the way, Zelda makes her twin confront their messed-up past. But why is Zelda doing this and what is at stake in this final game?

This was definitely an interesting read. I was sucked in from the beginning, with its rich prose and intriguing premise. Let me warn you all right now: this is not a thriller. There is no crazy action plot, no scary hidden secret. This is all about dysfunction and family. And damn, this is a dysfunctional family! The author did not hold anything back when she created her characters, for they are all deeply flawed and messed up. While I usually enjoy seeing characters that aren’t “picture perfect”, this novel took it a bit too far; I ended up feeling no connection or emotion to any of the characters. This made me feel really disconnected with the story itself, which is quite a shame because I’m sure my experience with this novel would have been even better if this had happened. I enjoyed the intrigue of finding the clues and putting it together, but there were times when I felt like the author was really stretching the limits in order to make everything tie in – that’s where it became more messy and less cohesive. I really really really liked the prose; the author has great vocabulary and she knows how to use her words! The prose also helped form the character’s personality, which was nice to see. What I mean by that is that the words Ava used were very eloquent and perfect-sounding, which is the image that she strives to maintain even as she falls apart. There were loads of positives with this story from the way the author described everything to the richness of the relationships between characters to the essential question of what Zelda’s endgame is. There were a few negatives as well with the lack of connection to the characters and the sometimes-messy intrigue of putting the past together. A lot of thought and work went into this novel and for a debut, I’m quite happy with what I read! I think that this author definitely knows her stuff and knows how to create a story that will capture the reader’s interest and keep them in the novel! I’m excited to know what she will come up with next.

Happy reading ~

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken – The Wolves Chronicles #1

When I was young, I had these amazing neighbours who I loved like my own grandparents. They had no children of their own, so they quite enjoyed having me over. They always gave me the best gifts, recognizing what my likes and dislikes were quite aptly. For one birthday, they gifted me two books that were part of this series. And let me just tell you, those books were amazing! I loved the stories – and I still love them! Only recently did I discover that this series even existed, so now I plan on reading all of the books in order!

Bonnie Willoughby is very excited for the arrival of her cousin Sylvia, and for her meeting with her new governess, Miss Slighcarp. While her parents prepare to leave for their sea voyage, Bonnie waits anxiously for the 2 people she hopes will keep her happy while her parents are away. While Sylvia turns out to be just as wonderful as Bonnie imagined, it soon becomes clear that Miss Slighcarp is not a kind governess. Left in her care, the girls are aghast by her cruelty. The servants are sent away, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are taken to a prison-like orphan school. Will the girls ever escape and be free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?

Reading this book brought a smile to my face. Granted, it’s a story for elementary school children, but the story is cute and the characters are spunky, and it’s one of those stories where everything becomes right in the world. It may not explain everything in perfect detail but it keeps the reader entertained throughout. It brought back so many wonderful childhood memories for me, and even though I’m reading it as an adult, it still seemed like a fun read! If you want to revisit the kid in you, then this is the book to go for!

Happy reading ~

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

The hardest books for me to read are those where children die. Children are so vulnerable, so innocent, and when harm befalls them … well, it just hurts me to hear about it. There are times when I’ve chosen not to read a really good book because the topic has been too difficult for me to read. However, I decided to give this novel a shot and I’m so glad I did because it was absolutely fantastic!

It takes one rwiny afternoon to shatter a mother’s life, when her son slips from her grip and runs into the street. In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything, including that terrible car accident and the death of her child. Desperate to escape, she moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

At first, this novel broke my heart. I could feel the pain from losing a child with every word written on the page. I could feel the guilt oozing out of Jenna, and I understood the helplessness of the detectives investigating the hit-and-run. But when I got to the midpoint, this story shocked me. The twist was unexpected and I knew I had to read more. The story became so much darker; it was sinister and scary and I couldn’t stop myself from reading further. The cast of characters were fabulous, each so unique and detailed that I felt I got to know them on a deeper level. Few books have made me feel as if I have glimpsed the soul of each character… but this one did. This was such as fantastic story, and it is a thriller that made me feel every emotion under the sun! Looking for your next big thrill? Don’t miss out on this one!

Happy reading ~ 

Dangerous Dreams: A Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Mike Rhynard

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I am fascinated by unsolved mysteries, and the Roanoke Colony is one of the biggest mysteries out there! Like many others, I’ve tried to read up on what information is available and the facts that are known are quite chilling. I was very excited to read this book when I read the premise and was very glad to have been granted access to this title by the author and the publisher!

On July 23, 1587, 117 colonists landed on Roanoke Island. Within less than a month, the dwindling supplies and hostile environment forced Governor John White to sail back to England for additional support. However, White was delayed in his return to Roanoke by war with Spain, and when he returned in 1590, the colony had vanished, leaving only the word “Croatoan” etched into a tree.

In the 21st century, a young woman begins to have mysterious realistic dreams of the New World settlers, and eventually realizes that what she is witnessing is the events that transpired in Roanoke from 1587 onwards, through the mind of a young colonist named Emily Colman. As this young woman continues to dream, she forms a strong connection with Emily, one that makes her wonder if there is more to this bond than just these simple dreams.

Through these visions, we see Emily and the colonists struggle to survive amidst internal dispute and the powerful Powhatan tribe members, who seek to destroy all in the colony. To add to this, Emily faces the struggle of having multiple suitors who desire her hand in marriage. As the colony’s future begins to grow more and more perilous, Emily must face life-threatening perils that will ultimately force her to make a decision that will change her life forever.

The excitement I approached this novel with quickly waned as I began to read this story. Perhaps it was the version that I was reading but I had a very difficult time following along with the story. Everything was very choppy and sometimes it was difficult to tell what exactly was going on and who exactly was talking. The conversations itself seemed very stilted and awkward, making the story and the characters seem even more one-dimensional than they already were. There were also a great deal of subplots, which made it very difficult to keep things straight. With every page, I was getting introduced to new characters and new events and new information, so much so that they all began to blend together and I became extremely confused and frustrated. Also, some of the elements really didn’t work. For example, using Emily, a virgin who is from a well-respected family, as a wet nurse made no sense to me. And why was there so much interest in her choosing a suitor?! Shouldn’t she – and all other people – be focusing on something more important, like their SURVIVAL?! When the third love interest was introduced, I literally rolled my eyes; I hate when characters suddenly see a person and know that “he is THE ONE”. It is just so unbelievable and throws credibility for the whole story out the window. I enjoyed hearing about the survival aspects but sometimes the way it was described didn’t make sense to me; if we are reading about the Roanoke survivors through these dreams that are from Emily’s perspectives, then how can we be seeing and hearing conversations happening when she is not present? That was something that kept popping into my mind. There weren’t too many mentions of Allie, who is the young woman from the 21st century, and whenever she was part of the story, all she seemed to do was say “wow, what a weird dream” and “oh no, not this!” and then fall back asleep and keep dreaming; she really didn’t have much substance as a character. Because of all of these reasons, I couldn’t push myself to finish this novel and stopped reading at 35%.

Happy reading ~

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Before reading this novel, I had no idea of the historical significance of the Barbizon Hotel. Sure, I’ve heard about Sylvia Plath and Jaon Crawford, but I had no idea that they lived in a women’s-only hotel! This just made me more interested in reading this story (even though the story has nothing to do with any famous women)!

When Darby McLaughlin arrives at the Barbizon Hotel in 1952 to begin her schooling at a secretarial school, she is housed along with girls who work for the Ford modeling agency. It soon becomes clear that she stands out for all the wrong reasons; her plain features, and self-consciousness make her a pariah among her hall mates. Darby finds a true friend in Esme, a Barbizon maid, who shows Darby a whole new side of New York City, full of seedy downtown jazz clubs, with their addictive music and heroin. 

Over half a century later, the Barbizon has been turned into a condo, with the older female guests staying on in rent-controlled apartments. However, rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid in 1952 still float around among the residents. The history of the building combined with this piece of gossip is too intoxication for journalist Rose Lewin to resist, especially once she moves into the Barbizon. As Rose begins to investigate deeper into Darby’s life, the ethical line begins to grow murky. What both women can be sure of is that life will never be the same for them after this. 

What an absolutely fascinating read! I loved everything about this story and was absolutely incapable of putting it down! Where do I even begin?

Well, first of all, I love the characters. Every single one showed me a unique side to New York City either in 1952 or in 2016. Darby, Esme, and Rose each have their own personality and voice, making them not only easy to distinguish but easy to connect with as well. I loved how each character changed throughout the story, and it was done so tastefully that it never felt as if one character shone more than the other. I liked reading about their interactions with others and the way in which their relationship to New York City itself changed as the story progressed.

I loved that the story continually shifted from past to present, and that I was able to glimpse life back in the 1950s, a time period that I am wholly unfamiliar with save for references in the book. The author did a fantastic job of making Barbizon come alive to the reader, even though I didn’t know the first thing about this historic building! It made me wish I could have gone and lived there during that time period and experienced everything first hand!

I enjoyed the romance aspects of the story, which is quite surprising since I usually don’t comment on this area. It was done right in this novel, both in 1952 and in 2016, and I’m not going to say another word on this topic for fear of ruining it!

I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things about this story! It is a tale about friendship, feeling at home in your own skin, and making difficult life decisions in the face of adversity. It talks about misunderstandings, trust, and the need to be loved by those around you. The author took these themes and seamlessly integrated a vibrant backdrop without taking anything away from the story or the characters, and for all of these reasons and more, this novel is going to get 5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~