Blog Tour | All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

23212667Nicolette Farrell returns home after ten years to care for her aging father. Shortly after she returns, a young girl Annaleise, goes missing. This is particularly creepy for Nic as the reason she left in the first place was that her best friend Corinne had disappeared when she was about Annaleise’s age, and the story behind Corinne’s disappearance had haunted Nic, her brother Daniel and her ex-boyfriend Tyler all the years since.

All the Missing Girls is a thriller told in reverse. After Nic returns home (Day 1), we jump in time to Day 15, when the town is searching for Annaleise, and Tyler had disappeared. The story unravels in reverse, counting down from Day 15 all the way to Day 1, and slowly elements of both disappearances emerge.

The mystery itself is fascinating (what happened to Annaleise, and is it connected somehow to what happened to Corinne?) but the structure felt too gimmicky and left me feeling confused and impatient throughout. I was more interested in what happened after Day 15 and moving the story forward rather than inching back day by day only to be left with the same questions I had at the beginning of the book, namely what happens after Day 15? Often, the significance of conversations in one chapter will only be revealed in the next chapter, with an incident from the previous day, but I felt somewhat cheated because I already knew what would happen next. There were certainly surprises, and the big reveals at the end were satisfyingly surprising, but the impact was somewhat lost on me as it just made me want to think back to Day 15 and what could have happened after.

I’m also glad that Miranda does provide a bit of an epilogue to let us know how things turn out after Day 15. Part 3, with its urgency contrasted with a sense of bleak resignation, wasn’t quite a happy ending, but it felt right.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Review | Invincible Summer, Alice Adams

27161851I love the idea behind this novel — four friends from college graduate and drift off into separate lives, the novel dipping into their stories intermittently over the next twenty years. I love coming of age stories, and I especially love stories where the “coming of age” chronicles the transition into adulthood and the various milestones (job, marriage, children) that come afterwards.

The main character is Eva, who is secretly in love with playboy Lucien in college and who graduates to become an investment banker. (Kudos to Alice Adams — I think an investment banker heroine is fairly rare in popular fiction, particularly with the amount of industry-specific detail included here. The author’s background in finance is evident, with so much financial terminology and dialogue that it reminded me of my experience watching The Big Short — slightly confused and slightly struggling to care about what are obviously very big and exciting deals.)

Secretly in love with Eva is Benedict, a physicist who, kudos to him, moves on to other women when it’s clear Eva isn’t interested in a relationship with him at that time. Lucien is a playboy in college who goes on to become a professional partier in adulthood, age turning him from charming to sleazy and from fun-loving to rather pathetic. Lucien’s sister Sylvie is an aspiring artist for whom adulthood is a harsh dose of reality.

I enjoyed this story, particularly as it chronicled the shift from the rather rosy expectations the characters have in college to the reality of adulthood, where your talent may not be enough to build a viable career, where the man who pined after you for years may no longer be available when you decide to reciprocate his feelings, where you can land your dream job and do everything right and still not succeed.

Sylvie really stood out to me as the most compelling character, with her descent from popular talented college girl to a woman who can barely make ends meet and can’t figure out what to do with her life. She and Lucien took a much smaller role as the story progressed, with the main focus being Eva’s career and her on-again/off-again will they/won’t they type of romance with Benedict, but I couldn’t help wishing Adams had given us much more of Sylvie’s story.

Invincible Summer is a good book and well-written, but it never quite latched on to me or made me feel so invested in the characters that I had to keep reading. I think it’s because the characters mostly fell flat for me. The character I found most compelling (Sylvie) was relegated to the backseat so ended up feeling flatter than she could have been, whereas the character who was the primary focus (Eva) was okay but a bit too bland to carry the novel. Lucien almost felt unnecessary — he was set up as Eva’s crush in the beginning, but never really stood out as all that appealing, even for a young woman in the mood for a bad boy, and after graduation, he mostly just seemed inserted into the story at sporadic moments, seeming more like the vaguely creepy guy you avoid on the subway than someone who is truly menacing, truly charismatic or truly pathetic. Benedict had potential to be interesting — he is on the team working on the hadron collider! — but his marriage seemed tepid at best, more an obstacle to his happily ever after with Eva than an actual emotional impediment.

Still, it’s a quick read, well-written, and an interesting peek into the lives of 20- and 30-year-olds. Fans of One Day may enjoy the format.

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Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Blog Tour | The Girls in the Garden, Lisa Jewell

27276357Eleven year old Pip, her thirteen year old sister Grace and their mother move into a cozy London neighbourhood flat where their neighbours have all grown up knowing each other. One summer evening, Pip discovers Grace lying unconscious and partially undressed in a hidden corner of the neighbourhood’s communal rose garden. The mystery around who did what to Grace drives the story, and Jewell takes us to the weeks before the incident and to the days in its immediate aftermath.

The Girls in the Garden is a gripping tale with a dark and twisty cluster of relationships among the neighbours. Jewell creates an entire cast of characters, and I admit that at times, it became a bit confusing to figure out the characters’ relationships and feelings towards each other. Grace and her peers are central to the story’s plot, and Pip is the narrator who observes everything, but the parents in the neighbourhood are just as entrenched in the developments. The attack on Grace somewhat mirrors a murder in the same garden years ago, and old suspicions and accusations surface.

Initially, the answer to the mystery seems obvious, even if the perpetrator’s identity is still to be determined. However, Jewell doesn’t give us the obvious. I found the reveal to be darker than I’d imagined, and the characters’ responses to the reveal made it even more disturbing. I felt like there was so much more to unpack in that reveal than we’re given, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that ending. On the one hand, it felt deeply unsatisfying in its seeming neatness; on the other hand, I actually can imagine real people responding like this, particularly within a small, enclosed neighbourhood, and that itself is probably the darkest, twistiest bit of all.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Blog Tour | Relativity, Antonia Hayes

25814254Twelve year old Ethan Forsythe is a science whiz who can “see physics.” His mother Claire is a former ballerina who has raised him alone since his father Mark left shortly after he was born. When Ethan falls ill, the story behind his father’s leaving slowly emerges, and when Ethan intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he becomes determined to use his scientific acumen to find out the truth.

Relativity has all the elements of a tearjerker, and the premise somewhat reminds me of the movie August Rush. The story is told from alternating viewpoints of the family members, and Ethan is an endearing protagonist. I like the scientific metaphors, and the nerdiness of Ethan’s approach to everything. For example, he decides to build a time machine to prove his father’s innocence in an incident long ago.

Claire is probably my favourite character in this story, and I highly sympathized with the guilt she’s carried over the years about her role in her child’s injury. I love how fiercely protective she is of Ethan, even as she struggles to fully understand him and his world. She gave up her career as a ballerina to be a single mom, and while she has her flaws, I found her an admirable character.

I like how Mark and Ethan are so alike, and how much of a bond they form almost instantaneously. But I couldn’t help agreeing with Claire that perhaps he didn’t need to be part of their life. Until Mark’s father made meeting Ethan his dying wish, Mark seemed much too mired in regret to actually make an effort to reconnect, and while I understand his fear and hesitation, I would have liked a bit more insight into his character.

Stories similar to this usually have you cheering for the child and hoping that the family would end up together in the end. I don’t know what the author intended in this book, but that certainly wasn’t the case for me. I wanted Ethan to get better, and I was fine with him getting to know his father, but never quite got hooked on the idea that Claire and Mark should get back together. The novel never quite hooked me enough to make me cheer for one outcome or the other, and while perhaps this ambiguity is precisely what the author intended, it left me feeling oddly detached from the story. I do like the liberal use of scientific metaphors, as it gives us insight into Ethan’s and possibly his father’s heads, and I do like the idea of seeing particle waves as a superpower. But perhaps that too added a layer of disconnect when I read; I never quite got caught up in this story’s poetry of science.

Relavity is a sweet book about a family torn apart by an incident over a decade ago, and about the efforts taken to renew that bond. Some readers may geek out over the science metaphors; others may be moved by the family dynamics. At its best, Relativity is a moving look at how a single mistake can lead to such long term consequences.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

 

Review | I’m Your Biggest Fan, Kate Coyne

27161824I’m Your Biggest Fan is a fun and funny collection of anecdotes about celebrity encounters from Kate Coyne, executive editor for People and formerly a reporter for Page Six of the New York Post and entertainment editor for Good Housekeeping. She begins the book with a story about her emotional first encounter with Robert Downey Jr, as a teenage fangirl who burst into tears at his autograph and later bumped into him with her eyes still puffy and her nose still swollen. The chapter is titled “Robert Downey Jr. Thinks I’m Emotionally Unhinged,” and that tone of self-deprecating humour sets the tone of hilarity for the rest of the book.

Coyne has what is arguably many readers’ dream job — the chance to hobnob with A-list celebrities and get paid for it. I can only imagine how awkward I would be face to face with RDJ, NPH and all the other celebrities she writes about, so it’s nice to read that someone who does this for a living is still just as starstruck as I would be, though admittedly more professional than I may have managed to act.

 

Coyne’s stories made my laugh (RDJ) or swoon (Tom Cruise, surprisingly, and Tom Hanks), and in one of my favourite chapters, served as a reality check that regardless of how friendly a celebrity is, the interview is still a job, and celebrity journalists are still an acquaintance at best and not necessarily a friend. In this particular chapter, Coyne interviews Mariska Hargitay and is blown away by how warm and friendly Hargitay is. Near the end of the interview, Hargitay makes an offhand suggestion that Coyne and her husband drop by sometime for a game of charades. I’ll be honest: I love Mariska Hargitay, and if she ever invites me over to charades, I may very well respond as starry-eyed as Coyne did, and will likely set myself up for the same disappointment she experienced when the follow up invitation never came. The punchline of the story comes years later when Coyne encounters Hargitay at the Emmys and blurts out something about the charades invitation apropos of absolutely nothing, and then proceeds to make it worse by babbling about the context for her comment. Coyne writes, “As I cackled like a lunatic, Mariska’s gorgeous Louboutin stilettos took two steps backward. She was physically trying to get away from me. She was slowly backing away from the scary stalker that I had become” (p. 67).

Coyne’s writing maintains its light and breezy tone. Listening to her stories felt like chatting with a friend who happens to be invited to amazing events with all the cool people in Hollywood. In another of my favourite chapters, this one featuring Tom Hanks, Coyne is feeling idiotic after a particularly awkward encounter with Neil Patrick Harris and Hanks notices her mood and kindly strikes up a conversation and makes her feel better. I’ve always loved Tom Hanks’ work, and this anecdote makes me just want to hug him.

Coyne also relates some more serious stories, such as her encounters with Kate Gosselin, who is really an object of sympathy unjustly maligned by the tabloids and with Michael Douglas, with whom Coyne shared a lovely moment reminiscing over a childhood encounter with his troubled son. There’s a chapter at the end about a bout with an eating disorder, which felt out of place with the rest of the book. Coyne keeps the tone as light as self-deprecating as ever but in this instance, the tone feels almost discordant with the content, and I wish that, if this part of the story had to be included, that it had been given a bit more space to unpack rather than treated as a throwaway amongst many other anecdotes.

I’m Your Biggest Fan is a fun, humorous look at celebrity journalism and having the dream of a lifetime chance to speak with celebrities you admire.

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Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada for an Advance Reading Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Trust No One, Paul Cleave

23492648Jerry Grey, a crime fiction writer with Alzheimer’s, is convinced that the murders he wrote about are real, and that he is the one who committed them. The plot thickens when he learns of other murders not in his novels, ones he may have committed and forgotten about. Is Jerry a killer? Is he guilty of the murders he remembers doing, those he doesn’t remember at all, and those with victims he doesn’t even recognize? When he can’t even trust his own memory, how can he tell what is and isn’t real?

Paul Cleave’s Trust No One is a fantastic page turner that keeps you guessing and second-guessing yourself throughout. We see the story mostly through Jerry’s eyes, and so end up as uncertain as he is about what actually did happen. There’s an added layer of complexity with Jerry’s writer persona Henry Cutter, who isn’t a pseudonym so much as a frame of mind Jerry puts on when he writes his crime novels. The book includes excerpts from Jerry’s journal, chronicling events since he learned of his diagnosis, and whenever a situation gets too emotional, Jerry copes by turning the pen over to Henry. Is it possible that Jerry doesn’t remember the murders because it is actually Henry committing them? Midway through the book, a friend of Jerry’s named Hans steps in to help Jerry find the truth, and I was so caught up in the confusion around Henry’s potential role in the murders that I wondered if Hans was even real, or if he was simply another personality in Jerry’s psyche. (Jerry’s wife mentions not trusting Hans, but never actually talks to him directly.) We’re so entrenched in Jerry’s head that we experience how confusing his reality is, and it’s difficult not to slip into the paranoia and distrust Jerry feels towards everything and everyone around him. To me, that’s the sign of a great thriller, and kudos to Cleave for creating that effect.

The major hiccup for me was the ending, which confused me with all the big reveals. I’m a bit unclear about the motive and logistics behind some of the murders, and about whether or not one of the murders was a pure red herring or actually had a connection. It felt like there were so many twists and turns that they didn’t all quite fit neatly into the truth. The final chapter felt unsatisfying, though inevitable, and honestly I wish some of the characters (the police, the neighbour, the care facility staff) showed a bit more smarts throughout the novel than they actually did.

Trust No One is a heckuva thriller to dive into and immerse yourself in. Set aside a few hours to delve into Jerry Grey’s world and enjoy the ride.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a (signed!) copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Asking for It, Louise O’Neill

25255576This is not an easy read, but it rings with truth. Trigger warnings abound, and I wouldn’t say this is a must-read as it may be too difficult for some readers, but it is an important read for anyone interested in an unflinching look at rape culture.

The story is about eighteen year old Emma O’Donovan, a a beautiful, popular Queen Bee, until she is raped at a party. She can’t remember what happened, but there are explicit photos all over Facebook, and comments about her being a slut, bitch, whore, about her “asking for it.” When charges are pressed, residents of her small Irish town are either unable to look her in the eye or are accusing her of ruining the lives of “nice boys.” Media pundits are either holding her up as a feminist icon or judging the outfits and behaviour of girls these days. In brief, it is exactly like the stories that play out all too often on the media, and all too often in many women’s lives. There are statistics about how few rapes are even reported to the police (32% according to this website, and only 7% are arrested) and how few rapists even spend a day in jail (2% according to the same website). (Probably worse, when I checked Google for that statistic, the top suggested searches included questions of how many rape accusations are false, which goes to show how much the onus of proof is placed on survivors rather than perpetrators.)

Part of me wishes Asking for It had been an upbeat, rah-rah, #IBelieveWomen type of story. I wish that Emma had railed fiercely against the crime and that Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay’s character in Law and Order: SVU) had been in Ireland to take Emma’s case and nail those boys on all charges. But another part of me is grateful that the author has chosen to tell this story as she has. So many women don’t have an Olivia Benson to take their case, and even those who do may still not get justice.

I love how O’Neill sets up the character of Emma. Leading up to the party, she actually comes off as somewhat bitchy, making snide remarks about a friend who may be prettier and smarter than she is, stealing from another friend who’s rich, and flirting with a third friend’s boyfriend just because she could. Worse, she advises a friend not to report her own experience of sexual assault, since it’ll raise too big of a fuss, which is highly . The whole point of course is that even if you aren’t a typical “good girl,” you still weren’t “asking for it,” and Emma’s transformation after the assault is heartbreaking.

Asking for It is a stark look at an experience that is all too real and all too common. Its ending is realistic, if perhaps not entirely cathartic. Decide for yourself if you can and want to read this given the trigger warning; all I can say is that it seeks to discomfort, to make us look the reality of rape culture in the eye and refuse to look away, and in that, Louise O’Neil does an excellent job.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.