Review | The Drake Equation, Heather Walsh

18440294The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh is an entertaining romance between an environmental activist and a PR professional at an SUV manufacturer. The best part of the story is the dialogue — the characters were clearly attracted to each other from the beginning, and the supposed tension between their opposing views only seemed to provide basis for flirtation rather than cause any actual conflict.

Much of the romance focused on lively debates between the characters, though often the “winning” argument was obvious from the beginning. Emily’s arguments against SUVs found little resistance from Robert, who mostly seemed confused at the vehemence of her position than passionately opposed to it himself. Robert’s work at the SUV manufacturer seemed clearly more a job than a cause, and ultimately, his main argument boiled down to SUV owners being insecure and therefore worthy of sympathy. Another argument on affirmative action offered a bit more meat for debate, and one side eventually backed down at an unexpected point from the other. Still, these discussions were interesting food for thought, and the characters had the chemistry to keep the sizzle going.

The big conflict in their romance ended up being Robert’s workaholic tendencies, which unfortunately wasn’t developed as much as their talking points on SUVs were. As such, when it was his work habits that ended up creating the big crisis in their relationship, it seemed to come from nowhere, and there never felt any real danger that this issue would cause lasting damage.

A couple other things that bothered me. In the beginning of their flirtation, Robert called Emily “girl” and “honey”, which Emily protested at as being offensive, and Robert said it wasn’t, because there was no malicious intent behind these terms. It wasn’t a problem for these characters, because Emily was only pretending to be offended, but I definitely object to the idea of offensiveness being measured by intent rather than by response. It didn’t help that, at least in the beginning, Robert struck me as being condescending and Emily as being a walking stereotype. The characters do develop and become more complex as the story progresses, but I was annoyed with both of them at first.

Also, I was taken aback when Emily’s friend Carson referred to himself as a “fag.” It wasn’t in the context of a homophobic attack; in fact, it was a complete throwaway line, and that was what bothered me most about it. (Referring to the success of his stint in a dunking tank at a fundraiser, he says, “I know all those meatheads just wanted to dunk the fag.”) Given the often pejorative use of the term in the real world, I found it offensive and was surprised that Carson would use it on himself so casually. It seemed more thoughtlessness than a deliberate gesture on the part of the author, who likely just wanted a casual way to let us know that Carson is gay, but it’s this very thoughtlessness about it that bothered me.

Overall though it’s a fun read, with great chemistry and entertaining banter between the leads.

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Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | The Two Sisters of Borneo (Ava Lee, Book 6), Ian Hamilton

17731888In the sixth instalment of the Ava Lee series, Ava and her business partners May Ling Wong and Amanda Yee discover that their investment in a furniture company based in Borneo has gone sour. The sisters who own the company have lost a considerable amount of money in a bad deal with a Dutch client, and Ava travels to Borneo to recoup the loss. Financial crimes call to mind images of men and women in suits analyzing numbers on a computer screen, but in typical Ian Hamilton fashion, this investigation leads Ava into dealings with a gang of local thugs and the need to call upon Uncle’s muscle.

This is probably my favourite among all the Ava Lee stories — it’s certainly the most emotional. I’ve always loved the mentor/protegee relationship between Ava and Uncle and in this book, Uncle has been battling cancer for several months now, and concern over his health is paramount on Ava’s mind even as she continues to investigate the case. Uncle’s health is clearly in an unstoppable decline throughout the book, and even though he’s still alive, there’s already a clear passing of the torch, and Ava must deal with the thought of a future without Uncle’s guidance.

The mystery itself is filled with unexpected twists and turns. Some aspects of the case fell flat, such as a senseless kidnapping that seemed added just to include some action, and a deus ex machina move involving a mysterious figure that made sense given the context of the story but still felt too convenient. The big reveal was a surprise, and added some emotional heft to the mystery.

My one big complaint, not just with this book but with the series as a whole, is the overemphasis on brand names and descriptions, particularly of luxury goods. We often hear that Ava is wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt (or a Giordano shirt, depending on the occasion) and how she never drinks anything but Starbucks Via. Unless the character is Miranda Priestley from Devil Wears Prada or Claudia Kishi from The Babysitters Club, I really don’t care what they wear for every single scene in the book. To give you an idea — I read this book a few weeks ago, and yet I can still remember exactly what brands she likes. It’s annoying, and all I can hope is that the author is somehow being compensated for the product placement.

Still, this is definitely one of, if not the, best in the Ava Lee series. Uncle’s illness adds an emotional heft that is at times more compelling than the mystery itself, yet that also adds a sense of urgency to the case, as Ava rushes to complete it as quickly as possible so that she can go back to Uncle. It’s a must read for fans of the series.

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Thank you to House of Anansi for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon

18007535What if you could bring the dead back to life? If you’ve read Stephen King or seen any number of classic horror movies, it should be pretty obvious that this is never a good idea. A character says as much near the beginning of this book, only to be told that someday, she just may love someone enough to seriously consider it.

Indeed. A mother loses her child. A woman loses her husband. Two children lose their mother. Loss is everywhere in this book, and Stephen King nightmares aside, how much can we really blame anyone for wanting just a few extra days with a loved one?

That being said, as we all know, the reality is never as good as we imagine. In Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People reanimated corpses called sleepers are rumoured to haunt the woods, and in classic horror story tradition, these sleepers turn out to be rather thirsty for human blood. Reviews on Goodreads have compared it to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which either I’ve never read or it freaked me out so much I’ve blocked it completely from my memory. If you have read it, that might give you an idea of what to expect.

There is a Stephen King feel to McMahon’s book, particularly near the end. The story spans over a century, and refers to several mysterious deaths over the years, but McMahon keeps her focus tight and intimate. There is Sara in 1908, who has grown up hearing tales of sleepers in the woods from her Auntie who practices dark magic. When Sara’s daughter Gertie dies, Sara’s desire to be reunited with her leads to mysterious knocks in the night and notes in childish handwriting suggesting Gertie had been murdered.

The story switches between Sara’s story and the present day, with sisters Ruthie and Fawn living in the house Sara used to live. When their mother goes missing, their search for answers leads them to discover Sara’s story and realize that the tales of sleepers in the woods may be real after all. Also in the present day is Katherine, who discovers her husband met with a mysterious woman before he died, and her investigation into the last day of his life leads her to Ruthie and Fawn, and to Sara’s story.

It’s a scary book, though the supernatural elements weren’t quite explored enough to haunt the reader past the last page. The reveal about Gertie’s murderer mostly just confused me, and I had to flip back to see what I’d missed, and with regard to the ending, a couple of the characters appear far too easily accepting of their fates. Overall, it’s a good weekend read, an atmospheric, creepy tale that I can easily imagine being adapted for screen.

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Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.