The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

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

I’ve never read Christian fiction. It’s not like I go out of my way to avoid it but I generally try to stay away from any books that focus on any religion. However, I thought this novel had an intriguing premise and I wanted to give this genre a chance. So here is my review:

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she wants to do is run away. But her best friend Patrick urges her to reconsider her decision. Reluctantly, she agrees to continue with the trip they had planned before the tragedy. During a stop at a county flea market, Jessica discovers an antique sewing kit that contains a faded document. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French in the papers, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who had been condemned for practicing her faith centuries ago. Adeline and her community had been decimated by the Huguenot persecution. But the documents showed that there were those who had managed to escape the brutality, including Adeline’s siblings. Determined to learn the fate of the Baillard’s, Jessica retraces their journey from France to England, spurred by a need she doesn’t understand. Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

I was quite surprised to find that I really enjoyed this novel. It definitely went beyond my expectations and I loved that the author had a historical aspect for this story. I really knew nothing about the Huguenots until this novel, so that was a huge revelation for me. It is always a sad thing to hear about people being persecuted for their beliefs, and the fact that this still happens to this day is just terrible. I liked how Jessica goes on this journey to understand the Baillard’s continual belief in their faith, while also figuring out what happened to them. Jessica became invested in finding out their truth, and so I as the reader became invested in it, too. I always love reading about documents that start a journey, and this one was no exception! In fact, I think the author did a great job of making the journey progress the way that it did. As expected from a novel in this genre, there is a focus on faith and religion, but it is really quite mild and it is presented in a way where people of all different religions can enjoy and appreciate the message. I will admit that I was more intrigued by the historical aspect than what Jessica was going through, but the author did a good job of showing how PTSD can traumatize a person and shake their identity. Overall, this was a really solid novel, with good writing and a good journey!

Happy reading ~

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The Lives of Desperate Girls by Mackenzie Commons

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

I was intrigued by both the premise and the location of this novel. I really like novels where teens are dealing with something difficult and take it upon themselves to find out what’s really going on. I also wanted to see how the author portrays Northern Ontario; as a Torontonian who has never really gone up north, I was excited to read about what life is like there. Anyways, here is my review:

When 16-year-old Helen Commanda is found murdered just outside Thunder Creek, no one pays any attention to it. All her death does is shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is everything Helen isn’t: beautiful, wealthy, and white. The fact that Helen was from the reservation only seems to make it easier for people to dismiss her. Only Jenny Parker, Chloe’s best friend, seems to think it is important to look into Helen’s death, and so she takes it upon herself to look for answers about Helen’s life and death. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I have mixed feelings about this novel because there are a few things that the author does that I like but an equal amount of things that I don’t like. I really liked that the author highlighted the problems of the First Nations people of Canada. Not many people are aware of their struggles and the things they have endured – and continue to endure – are heartbreaking. And the author really does do justice to them: she tells it like it is. I only wish it had been told from the perspective of an actual Native and not just from that of a white teenage girl. While Jenny is definitely trying to understand and be aware of the oppression and racism that the Aboriginal people face, I don’t think she is necessarily the best spokesperson for it since she really isn’t a part of their community or culture. I wish there had been more emphasis on the way life is on the reserves and the traditions that the First Nations value, as that would have allowed the reader to see some of the wonderful aspects of their culture. However, the idea that a Native girl’s death is not as important as a Caucasian girl’s disappearance was an interesting one and I think the author did a really good job of bringing that to the forefront. I actually found the writing style compelling, even if it was confusing to follow at times what with the various jumps in time that Jenny took; it was hard to tell if something was happening in the present or if it was just a memory. I did not like the love angle that the author tried to force into the situation; it didn’t add anything to the novel and it was not well planned or executed. It was literally just two teenagers hooking up and doing drugs and drinking, none of which screams romance or bonding. I didn’t like the incompetence of the cops, and I’m not just referring to their dismissal over the case of Helen. I’m referring to the almost comical way they question and interrogate Jenny over Chloe’s disappearance; you would think adults would know how to run an investigation and ask the right questions but clearly, that is not the case in this novel. The author also takes on another topic: slut-shaming. While I think this is an important topic to discuss, I don’t really like Jenny’s role in that aspect and I wish the author had made her more … sensible or intelligent. I also didn’t really like how things were resolved in the novel because, well, it didn’t really feel resolved. I understand that not everything can have a happy ending but this just felt messy and unfinished. Overall, I think the author chose 2 very important topics to center her novel around. While the writing was compelling, the main character’s decisions as well as the actual ending of the novel left me disappointed. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

From its description, this novel sounded really interesting and quirky. And I’m all about quirky! I decided just to give it a go, so here is my review:

When grad student Kate Pearson’s handsome French boyfriend dumps her, she goes down in flames. All her confidence and ambition goes away, and all she wants to do is sit and mope and do nothing. Her sister and her friends do everything they can to get her out of bed but it seems like nothing will get Kate back into the real world. Miraculously, a disastrous interview leads to a position in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School. Kate is thrust into her job, where she has to interview all types of children for a position at the school. And then she has to deal with the parents who simply refuse to take no for an answer. She soon realizes that there is no room – or time – for self-pity during admissions season. As Kate tries her best to figure out how to make sense of her new job, her sister and friends find themselves going over and beyond in their efforts to keep Kate on her feet. Never mind that Kate seems to be doing perfectly well on her own without any of their interference…

While I’m all about quirkiness, this story was not doing it for me. I don’t think it had to do with the story itself. It was more that I really did not like the main character. Here’s the thing, I don’t mind characters that are a little bit bumbling or caught up in their own world. But Kate is a whole different story. Maybe it’s because I am an older sister and identified more with the character of Angela (Kate’s sister), but I found Kate exasperating. She literally did nothing to help herself, and made everyone else do things for her. I understand that an undergraduate degree does not always lead to the job in the area you want, and doesn’t always give you the skills you need to transition into something else … but you have to have some basic common sense! How do you not know how to dress for an interview or even how TO interview?! I get it, she was despondent and depressed … but it just irked me how she was so confused about everything in life, and literally knows NOTHING about how the world works. Where have you been living for so long, under a rock?! Sorry, I usually don’t get so ramped up but it just got too much, so much so that I couldn’t really enjoy the story, which was actually kind of funny. There are quite a few people who did enjoy this novel so I might be just an anomaly, but this book really did not work for me. I’m going to have to give this one a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Once, in a Town Called Moth by Trilby Kent

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while now, but I’ve been putting it off every time in lieu of some other urgent reading task. But I decided to make time for it now, so here is my review:

Ana grew up in a tiny Mennonite colongy in Bolivia. Her mother fled the colony when Ana was a young girl. Now, as a teenager, Ana and her father have also run away from the community, but Ana doesn’t know why. All she knows is that things were not right for her and her father and they needed to leave in a hurry. Now, they’ve arrived in Toronto and Ana must fend for herself in an alien country, completely disconnected from everything she knew. She has no idea where to begin with fitting in. But begin she does: she makes a friend, then two. She goes to school and tries to understand the hierarchy that is present and all the unspoken rules and codes that govern teenage life. She goes to the library, the mall, and even parties. And all the while, she is desperate to find her mother who left her so long ago, and understand her father who has always been a stranger to her.

This is definitely a character-driven story, and it is quite well done at that. The story is told from Ana’s perspective, in third perspective when she is in Toronto and in first perspective when she is describing her past in the Mennonite colony. I really liked that the author made that differentiation, as I’ve never seen an author do that before and it added a unique touch to the story. I really liked Ana’s character and the author did a really great job in expressing the emotions she was going through; as a reader, I found it very easy to connect with and understand Ana. I didn’t know much about the Mennonite community before this novel, but it is clear that the author did due diligence in researching and presenting the information about this community in a non-judgemental way. This novel is definitely more of a slow-burner and it’s really just about how Ana adjusts to Toronto after leaving Colony Felicidad so if you are expecting something more fast-paced or with action, then this is not the novel for you. However, it is a well-written YA novel that is all about growing up, fitting in, and finding your identity. I’m giving this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Hanna Who Fell From the Sky by Christopher Meades

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

The description of this book hinted at some kind of magical element, and that automatically had me intrigued. I wanted to see how the author would tie in a fantasy element with a story that revolves around polygamy. Here is my review:

Hanna has lived her entire life within the secluded community of Clearhaven. Her father has 4 wives and Hanna has 14 siblings. And in one week, on her 18th birthday, Hanna will follow tradition and leave her home to become the 5th wife of a man who is double her age. But days before the wedding, Hanna meets Daniel, a stranger with links to the community who challenges her beliefs and urges her to follow her own will. And when Hanna’s mother tells her a secret about her existence, Hanna realizes that this could be the ticket to the freedom she has always sought. But leaving Clearhaven means abandoning her beloved younger sisters and the only home she’s ever known? Can she turn her back on them and seek out her own destiny? Or is there another option – one too fantastical to believe?

The author does not wait to jump into the story, as the first scene is about how Hanna is only a few days away from her birthday – and her impending marriage. Right away, it is made known to the reader that Hanna does not want to go through with this marriage, but is doing so in order to uphold tradition and also protect her mother and siblings. The introduction of Daniel’s character happened pretty much the way I thought it would happen, and he became the catalyst for her dreams of escaping and wanting more for herself. I really enjoyed reading about her dilemma, as the author did a great job explaining all of the angles and options Hanna was considering. I also really liked Hanna’s character: she had opinions, intelligence, and was brave to a fault. I had been intrigued by the “fantastical” element in the premise, and when the author brought it up, it took me aback. It was very much something out of a fantasy/sci-fi story, and I thought it interesting that the author added this into the story. I wanted to see how the author would develop this detail. However, he really didn’t do so and that was quite disappointing to me. I really don’t like it when an author introduces something as a twist but it ultimately serves no purpose (which is what happened here). Either the author should have just eliminated that whole fantasy aspect, or developed it more so that it had an actual purpose in the plot. Overall, the story was a good one, but not anything different than other books on this topic. It was well-written and the main character was someone a reader could easily empathize with, but the addition of the fantasy element was really unnecessary and a bit of a let-down. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

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

This is one of thsoe cases where I chose a book simply because its title and cover looked interesting. I wanted to see if the story would match its outward appeal, and was very excited to have received this ARC. Here is my review:

Aviva Grossman is a bright and ambitious congressional intern… until she makes the mistake of having an affair with her married boss, the congressman. What’s worse is she wrote about her experience in an anonymous blog. When the affair comes to light in an unfortunate turn of events, it’s not the congressman who takes the fall, but rather Aiva. Suddenly, she can’t find herself a job anywhere, and she is slut shamed by everyone everywhere. Determined to get out of this unpleasant situation, Aviva leaves her home, changes her name, starts her own event planning business … and continues her surprise pregnancy. But when “Jane Young” decides to run for public office, that long-ago mistake comes back to haunt her.

This was a really interesting novel in terms of its premise. However, I’m still on the fence about whether it achieved its goals or not. This story is narrated from quite a few perspectives (all female), which I wasn’t expecting. Since this was Aviva’s story and the premise only mentions Aviva, I thought that this story would be from her perspective alone. While this made it interesting, it also made it a bit confusing. The novel begins with Aviva’s mother’s perspective, and while I loved her character, it took me a while to figure out where exactly the story was going. Then there was another switch in perspective, and again, I felt as if I had been uprooted from one story and put into another. This feeling was persistent for a large portion of the novel. However, I will say that I enjoyed reading from each perspective. All of the characters were wonderful and just so funny to read about. I also think that the author really makes a fine point of how unfair it is that a publicly drawn-out affair only affects the woman involved and not the man. However, I wish the author had elaborated on this aspect; while it is the main reason why Aviva takes such drastic decisions, it also never felt like it was fully addressed and resolved. This novel was a really enjoyable and funny read with great characters. However, it didn’t really address the elephant in the room and left me a bit disappointed. For that reason, I’m giving this novel a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran

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

I don’t often read emotional stories. But when I do, you can believe that I become a hot mess. This novel made my heart ache so many times that I didn’t know if I would be able to finish it. But I’m glad I did because it was a very thought-provoking story. Here is my review:

When Simran’s mother dies, Simran finds her world crash down around her. As she tries to make sense of the grief she feels, she sees her marriage disintegrate in front of her eyes and faces estrangement from her own daughter. As the days go by, Simran is haunted by memories and her mother’s ghost. As her life starts to fall apart, Simran must confront one of her most painful memories – when her parents sent her younger brother away. As the past starts flooding in, she wonders what could have caused her parents to send away their only son. Now, facedAs the past comes flooding back, she wonders what could compel her parents to turn their backs on their only son. Now with her mother gone, Simran must find the answers to these painful questions in order to finally put her ghosts to rest.

This book looks at grief in a multitude of ways. Not only does it focus on the actual moment of loss, it also depicts the stages and transitions one makes in the days that follow. It is a long and painful journey, and the reader feels every emotion that the main character does. As someone who has been fortunate enough to not have experienced the loss of a loved one, this was an eye-opening journey. There are so many nuances, so many elements to this state of being that I would never have thought possible. And the author allows each one to manifest itself and be understood by the reader. I really liked that the author flitted back in time and even delved into Simran’s mother’s past. This novel showed me the different ways people deal with grief, and how some accept and move on while others struggle to do so. This story is powerful even though it has a quiet voice, as it makes the reader aware of the strength it takes to carry grief in your heart and yet, continue to live life. I’m so glad that I had the chance to review this ARC and would recommend this book to anyone looking for a thought-provoking story.

Happy reading ~

 

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

I’m a sucker for murder mysteries of all kind. But this one had a unique premise. It’s been called a mashup of The Breakfast Club and Clue. After reading this book, I couldn’t agree more. Here is my review:

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention. There’s Bronwyn, an intelligent and driven student whose only desire is to go to Yale; Addy, a pretty girl who is always considered an airhead; Nate, the delinquent who sells drugs; Cooper, the star athlete who everybody loves; and Simon, resident gossip blogger who is hated and feared by everyone. However, what begins as a typical time in detention soon ends up as the scene of a tragedy: Simon dies. And according to the police, his death wasn’t an accident. As the investigation begins, it is revealed that Simon was planning on revealing some juicy gossip about all 4 of his fellow detention buddies – which means they’re all suspects in his murder. Everyone has secrets…. but how far will you go to protect them?

The first page of this book reminded me of Gossip Girl, which is a guilty pleasure show of mine. As the story took off, I found myself loving the intrigue and the gossip. It felt like one of those teen shows like Degrassi … but more sinister. I loved it. It was interesting to read from each character’s perspective and I was itching to know each of their secrets. Some characters I liked more than others, but each one was unique and well created so I have no complaints there. The author also set up the story very nicely; there were plenty of clues and hints so that the reader could guess the ending, and there were quite a few moments where you really felt sympathy for the characters and what they were going through. I also liked that the ending was realistic; it’s not just puppies and rainbows with everything being perfect. I think this novel would be perfect for anyone who likes shows like Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars. It was a fun read that is addictive and I could totally see this made into a miniseries. If you like those shows and if you like teen drama and murder mysteries, you are going to love this novel as much as I did!

Happy reading ~

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This novel has been making its rounds on all of the major lists. Everywhere I go, I see this novel being recommended. And I will admit, at first, I was hesitant. It wasn’t about the content; I strongly believe that the issues this novel addresses are ones that everyone should read and educate themselves about. But I was apprehensive about how the author would go about spreading the message. However, I decided to give it a go. And before I even begin this review, I would just like to say that choosing to read this novel was the best decision I ever made and it is one that I would like everyone to make. Because this novel is just that good and that necessary.

16-year-old Starr Carter lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the rich prep school she goes to. So far she’s managed to balance out the two. But everything changes when she is a witness to the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil by a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon, Khalil’s death becomes a national headline, with many people calling him a thug, drug dealer, and even a gangbanger. Others are starting protests in his name. All anyone wants to know is: what really happened that night? The only person that can answer that question is Starr. As she finds herself being harassed by cops and even the local drug lord. Starr has to make the decision to say – or not say – something that could not only upend her community but also endanger her life. 

What you have with this novel is an incredibly powerful and unforgettable journey. I have never been afraid of the police. I have never felt that a cop has looked at me with prejudice. When I started to read this novel, I thought that my biggest struggle would be to understand what this feels like. However, the author did a magnificent job of describing the emotions, the internal conflict, and the tragedy of situations like this one, where an innocent person dies for no fault of their own. Starr’s suffering is one that I truly felt. I could feel her fear when she was weighing her options, when she was deciding whether she should speak out or not. I could feel her grief over losing her best friend – and losing herself. I could feel the inner turmoil within her as she saw how this experience changed her perception of her world and of herself. And I shook with her, as she became angry when she realized how the world was projecting this heinous crime. Words do not do justice to describe how aptly this author has described this scenario, how realistic the portrayal through Starr’s eyes was, and how heartbreaking this tragedy is. There was another component to this story: that of Starr’s place in the world she knew and the world as it became after the incident. Here, we see a whole host of other characters and how Starr’s relationships with them strengthens or weakens. These interactions were varied; some were warm and funny, others were callous and cold. But the reader was able to watch Starr grow through them, and that was an amazing experience to be a part of. As I was reading the story, I was amazed at how the author infused these 2 components to create a full-bodied plot that had everything going for it. I can literally come up with 0 criticisms … and that’s saying something!

This novel is a must-read, regardless of your genre preferences or your beliefs. This novel is not only gripping, it is also educational. Whether you are someone who has experienced what Starr has, or are privileged enough to have never faced racial prejudice, this is a novel you must read. Our society needs to be more aware of its shortcomings and realize that the media is not always correct. This isn’t just about Black Lives Matter; every life matters. And this novel, while inspired by Black Lives Matter, is a call to everyone to let go of prejudice, and value every individual’s life.

So, to all those who read my blog, and to those who are on the fence about reading this book, please go and read it.

Happy reading ~

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

What attracted me to this novel was its unique idea: it’s rare to see a female embezzler, especially one who is a homemaker. I wanted to know how the author would go about telling this story, so here is my review:

Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather “a woman who embezzles.” She has managed to embezzle $180,000 from her daughters’ private school, which she has used to pay for expensive vacations and renovations to her home. But when Marion discovers that the school is facing an audit, she pulls piles of cash from her basement hiding place and runs away, leaving her family to deal with the mess. As baffled detectives, and confused school board members start asking questions, Marion’s husband and children must navigate their new life without Marion.

When I began this novel, I thought it would for sure be one of those cases where I’m rooting for the criminal aka Marion. This novel was being sold as “wildly entertaining” which I interpreted as humorous. However, it was not. The novel started off interestingly enough, with Marion deserting her kids in a store. The novel is told from various perspectives: that of Marion, that of her husband, that of each of her kids, the detective assigned her case, and also that of some board members. While I admit that the story and the characters are quirky, this novel was a lot darker than I had expected. I had no sympathy for Marion or for her husband, as they were both quite despicable characters with no consideration for their children. I liked the children and they were the ones I sympathized with the most; they were innocents caught up in something that they didn’t deserve. I think my issue with this novel was that I couldn’t connect with the main character. She just seemed so distant and while I could understand her behaviour and motivations, I couldn’t feel the things she did and that made the story fall a little flat for me. This is a novel that cynical people who like dark humor would enjoy. While I enjoy dark humor, it wasn’t what I was expecting and that may be the reason I didn’t love this novel. Nevertheless, I’m giving this book a 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~