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

Review | Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, Ann Y. K. Choi

29218113Korean-Canadian teenager Mary is tired of having to manage her family’s convenience store. Part of her wants nothing more than to be modern and Canadian, but another part of her is unable to fully leave behind the expectations of her traditional Korean family. This dilemma plays out in different ways: she uses the name Mary but can’t help that her parents sometimes call her by her Korean birth name Yu-Rhee. She is in love with her English teacher, but her parents want her to set her up with a Korean boy named Joon-Ho. There’s also the unspoken family secret about her mother’s estranged sister, and how that may tie in to Mary’s own struggle.

Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety had its weaknesses — in particular, a scene of sexual assault felt tacked on, a tired coming of age trope that was added unnecessarily and then not fully explored. Mary’s crush on her older English teacher also felt cliche, and its outcome inevitable. That being said, I think these two things bugged me mostly because the rest of the book was so strong that any weakness really stood out.

I love how Choi writes about the immigrant experience. I love the sharp observations about feeling the need to represent an entire culture, simply because you are still a minority within the community. One character says of a fellow Korean: “He makes the rest of us look bad. Like we’re all a bunch of idiots who can’t make it here. Don’t you get it? People like him make them suspicious of all of us.” (page 198) Joon-Ho and his family do some really questionable, sometimes villainous things, but their struggle is also a really smart depiction of the pressure around immigration. I love how Choi portrayed Joon-Ho’s need to be as close to perfect as possible in order to achieve residency in Canada, and the additional stress of having your family’s hopes of immigrating lie on your shoulders.

I also love how Choi highlights the rarity of Asian representation in Canadian literature. When Mary’s mother asks her why she never reads books about Korean or Chinese characters, Mary responds that there aren’t any, or at least none that she’s aware of. This story was set in the 1980s, and thankfully today, there are a lot more options available for CanLit books featuring Asian characters. Still, Mary’s mother’s response resonated with me: “You want to know about feeling invisible? It’s always black and white in Canada. The Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, anyone from Asia are the true invisibles. Do you think anyone really sees us when they throw pennies at us for a newspaper?”

Overall, I really like how Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety portrayed the experiences of Mary, her mother and their family. I especially love how Mary realizes she can be Korean even without ascribing to traditions that don’t quite fit her: “I could claim my name myself. I could have everyone call me Yu-Rhee.” It’s a fantastic owning of identity, and realizing that one has the power to claim both sides of a dual identity for themselves, even with something as simple as a name.

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

Review | Keeper of the Flame (A Crang Mystery), Jack Batten

25866583Crang is a criminal lawyer who is hired by popular hip hop artist Flame to shut down a blackmail scheme. Some offensive lyrics written when Flame was a teen have been discovered, and could destroy the clean-cut, Cary Grant type image Flame’s handlers are trying to cultivate, unless the performer ponies up eight million dollars. Crang’s investigation leads to an organized gang, murder and a subplot involving a porn video.

Keeper of the Flame is first I’ve read in the Crang series. Crang is a fairly old school wisecracking private eye, whose exploits usually lead him in hotter water than he’d originally planned. I like how he structures his fees according to his clients’ ability to pay — a retail worker gets charged a minimal fee for a fairly complex case, whereas a multimillionaire like Flame gets charged accordingly. I also like how Crang uses Flame’s fame to get things done; in one scene, a detective agrees to do Crang a favour only if Crang could get Flame to write personal messages on the Facebook walls of the detective’s daughters.

 

This is a fun read; it didn’t quite keep me flipping the pages madly, but I like the lighthearted tone and somewhat snappy dialogue. Toronto-philes may also delight in finding Toronto featured so prominently in the story.

Random aside – do any of the other readers keep thinking of Krang from the Ninja Turtles, or is it just me?

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Thanks to Dundurn for an advance reading copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume

There are writers whose books you love, and then there are writes whose books have actually helped define your childhood. Judy Blume is such a writer. I remember reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was a child, and feeling that the author just got me. Somehow, Judy Blume placed her finger right on the pulse of pre-teen female anxieties, and while Margaret’s experiences may have differed from my own, in a way, I was Margaret. (“I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” Dear god, did we ever believe such an exercise would work?)

23899174I also enjoyed Blume’s adult novel Summer Sistersbut it’s where her characters are young adults, just beginning to figure out who they are, that I think Blume’s writing really shines. I feel the same way about her most recent adult novel In the Unlikely Event, which was inspired by a true incident in her childhood, when a succession of planes crashed near her New Jersey hometown and caused a ruckus in the community. Commercial air travel was still relatively new then, and much like the 1990s movie The Net warned of the potential dangers of the Internet, the real-life incident in the 1950s must have caused much anxiety over the safety of airline travel and the possibility that the crashes may not have been accidental.

In the Unlikely Event focuses on the story of Miri Anderson, who was fifteen when the airplane crashes occurred, and who was flying back home thirty-five years later to commemorate the anniversary of the incident. We learn about various stages in Miri’s life, all the way until adulthood, as well as receive glimpses of the lives of the passengers in the planes that crashed. Blume also incorporates newspaper articles, written in the somewhat novelistic, emotionally fraught style of the day, which help provide a wider picture of what’s going on. (Fun fact: In Blume’s Toronto talk about this book, she said that because she was so busy and the deadline for the manuscript was coming up so quickly, her husband stepped in to write the newspaper articles for her.)

As with Summer Sisters, I felt it was really the scenes of Miri’s childhood that shone. Her wonder at silk stockings, her desire to be a journalist, and later, her increasingly outlandish conspiracy theories about the real reason behind the crashes all took me back to childhood. Whereas an adult would likely think of practical solutions to planes crashing, or otherwise engage in knowing rhetoric about the perceived, widely accepted, “true” cause for the accidents, children are freer with their imaginations, and freer as well to admit that no one is telling them anything and that the situation is all the scarier for it. While the plane crashes formed the impetus for the plot, I especially loved the idyllic scenes of Miri and her mother in the small town. I love the saving up of pennies for silk lingerie, which is impractical but oh so pretty. I love reading about the gossip amongst the townspeople, and the way everyone pretends to know everyone else’s business. I don’t necessarily know that I would want to live like that, but I certainly love reading about it, and Blume’s narrative voice just lends itself so perfectly to nostalgia.

The intermittent vignettes about the airplane passengers were interesting as well. On a whole, I thought they distracted from the main story. But on quite a few instances, I actually found myself more compelled to read on about the vignette rather than return o the main story. I’d get all caught up in some passenger’s life, feel disappointed that they died in the crash and that I’d never get to hear more about how their lives could have turned out. And then I’d realize just how utterly, horribly tragic accidents could be. How much of a life, of a potentially beautiful and exciting rest of one’s life, can be cut off in an instant, and how utterly, horribly unfair it is to not even know the reason this death occurred. With these vignettes, Blume brought home the tragedy of these accidents, and suddenly, Miri’s theories make much more sense, not so much because they become more logical, but because in a small way, we too have developed a need to make sense of what has happened.

Judy Blume in Toronto, June 2015

In case you’ve never heard Judy Blume speak, she is simply marvellous. The Toronto Public Library hosted an event with her last summer. It was a sold-out event, with so much overflow that I believe the overflow room was just as crowded as the main one, and even though I had a ticket, I ended up perching on a bar stool somewhat behind a column at the very back of the room. It was so worth it though and made my inner thirteen year old squee.

Here is the Library’s video of the event:

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

Review | The Blue Hour, Douglas Kennedy

23492800Accountant Robin Danvers travels to Morocco with her artist husband Paul for a much-needed long vacation. There has been some tension in their relationship, with their various unsuccessful attempts to conceive and Paul’s recklessness with money, and Robin hopes that a trip to Morocco will help smooth out their relationship. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned. Robin catches Paul out in a horrible lie, and when he disappears, she becomes the prime suspect in the police inquiry.

The Blue Hour started off slow, and only really picked up steam for me in the final third or so. I sympathized with Robin’s marital troubles and her unmet desire for a child, but when Paul disappears, I didn’t quite understand why she was so concerned over his welfare that she’d go so far out of her way to track him down. She’s found him out in a pretty major lie, and her investigation keeps uncovering almost an entire secret life, with a whole new set of dangers that threaten to drag her down as well.

Paul’s disappearance seems to be of his own volition, and he seems to have no interest in reconnecting with her — at one point, she sees him in the street, only to have him disappear in the crowd. Then she finds out he may be connected with a particularly shady man, the type who can be either a good friend or a dangerous foe, yet instead of cutting her marital losses and leaving for the safety of home, Robin persists in digging deeper into her husband’s past and in continuing to try to track him down. I understand that this search forms the entire impetus for the story, but for a large chunk of the book, I wondered why she was willing to risk so much just to find him.

Then a rather random, horrible incident occurs, and it completely shifts the rest of the story. On one hand, I’m somewhat bothered by this twist, as it seemed so unnecessary. On the other hand, the story did pick up afterwards — suddenly the threat Robin faces actually feels real, and I felt much more invested in her race for survival than in her earlier race to find her husband.

Kennedy does a good job in describing places.  You can almost feel the heat and the crush of bodies as Robin moves around Morocco, and you can almost see the vast, parched, shimmering expanse of the Sahara desert.

It took me a while to get into The Blue Hour, the whole love story angle really still doesn’t ring true for me, and I still wish the momentum of the final third could have been sustained throughout. But I thought the descriptions were really strong, and I like how the book ended.

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