Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Six Goodbyes We Never Said - by Candace Ganger: Book Review

Title: Six Goodbyes We Never Said
Author: Candace Ganger
Pages: 416
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Release Date: September 24th 2019
Genre: YA, Teens
Format: Kindle

Over two months ago I finished reading this novel and I still think about how little I liked Naima, one of the main characters.

Before I proceed with this review, let me just say that that cover is on point. Kuddos & well done, person responsible!

I wanted to read this book because the premise was that it dealt with mental illness and I wanted to read more about that. It made me feel uncomfortable at times, but books should make you feel & see things outside your reading zone.

What made the novel scattered at times is that we find important information about Naima so far apart that it kept reconstructing the character for me. That's usually fun, but this time it was confusing. 

The characters' relationship felt unnatural. I am talking about Naima's family. Through throwbacks we learn about her father and mother, but the present day family of JJ, Kam, and Nell is not something to be desired. Naima is cruel to Nell, despite having been raised by her for years! I understand that Naima is keeping her at a distance, but that mean attitude and that tone were not necessary. I understand this does happen in real life, but it was uncomfortable and unpleasant to read about it. Also, Nell as a step mom was made to seem frail and an extra, as if always OK to overlook. For all she's done for Naima, that's unfair.

Dew is a darling and so are the Brickmans. I rooted for Dew and Faith, and especially for Stella and Thomas in their openness to help the two kids grow roots and feel safe. 

Overall the story was just OK for me. I liked it as I was reading it, but still have that feeling of not liking Naima, though. At times it was confusing to understand where the time line was and to piece the story parts together, but it's doable. Maybe it'd work better if read on paperback, not on Kindle as I did. 

I am sure this would appeal more to younger readers, someone who could relate more to the confusing feelings Naima and Dew have. 

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Characters List (might contain spoilers):
Naima Rodriguez - main character - OCD, GAD, PTSD; biracial
Staff Sergeant Raymond Rodriguez - Naima's dad - US Marine Corps - died
Josephine - Naima's mother, died when Ima was born
Penelope/ Nell - Naima's step-mom
Joelle/ JJ - grandma
Kameron/ Kam - grandpa
Hiccup - JJ and Kam's dog
Christian - step-brother
Caroline - Christian's girlfriend
Andrew/ Dew - his parents died; social anxiety; panic attacks triggered by his parents' death
Faith - Dew's sister
Phillip and Alejandra Diaz - Dew and Faith's parents, they died in a car accident
Stella and Thomas Brickman - Dew and Faith's foster parents
Baked and Caffeinated - Dew's workplace
Liam "Big Foot" Thompson - manager
Violet - employee B&C
Dodge Teagarden - senior at East Clifton High
Dr. Rose - Ima's therapist in Ft. Hood
Dr. Tao - Ima's doctor
Dr. Peterson - Dew's therapist

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris - by Jenny Colgan: Book Review

Title: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
Author: Jenny Colgan
Pages: 416
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: 06.08.2019
Genre: Women's Fiction, Food Novels
Format: Kindle

Although the novel promises to deliver a romantic story, it's flat; the romance comes as an afterthought. Once we get past the 50-60% mark in the novel, it seems the author remembered there was too little of the love aspect and hurriedly adds it. It reads artificial. Anna falls in love, presumably, with a man she suddenly finds attractive or handsome, but we're not buying it. It's not natural, it's too sudden, and... well... unromantic.

Not even Claire and Thierry's love story impresses. She fell in love with a selfish man and she basically pined after him her whole life. He did nothing to get her back. Now that I've finished reading the novel, I can clearly see how unlikeable Thierry is as a person. As a charismatic chocolate maker and seller, sure, he is the most charming. But I'm not fooled. I'm not buying his and Claire's love story either. However, comparing the two love stories, I found Anna and Laurent's worse.

Anna, the main character, has the aura of the perfect undercover woman. She knows not about her abilities, clearly. She can change Laurent, she is the trigger that leads to the two men's relationship mending. And how sudden that happens! We learn so much about it because it happened towards the end of the novel and we were too busy trying to wrap our minds around Anna and Laurent's new found passion for one another. Let us not forget, Laurent is attracted to Anna because she acts not interested in him and she likes to eat. That she finds herself physically attracted to him and jumps into impromptu kissing... well, this comes past the 85% mark. Of course she knows she loves him because he's good looking. Sound reason to jump into a... thing? relationship? We don't know.

Speaking of we don't know... Does Anna decide to stay in Paris for the foreseeable future? Is this her life? We're left guessing, just as she was doing before Paris and after the hospital stay. I guess it's enough if you find a love partner and you work in a chocolate shop, but just say this is what she decides. It was vague.

If it's not clear so far, the ending is rushed. Claire's preparations to visit Paris one last time were more interesting to read about than the actual visit and time spent there. Not to mention, they took longer to tell about than the visit.
Honestly, what I wanted to read more about was the chocolate shop in Paris. I was more interested in seeing where the shop will move forward and I like the path - Laurent becoming the governing force and giving Thierry a much needed slower pace.

I think this novel tried to present two Paris rose-colored love stories, but neither convinced me. It dawned on me that for Jenny Colgan the love stories come as an afterthought, a second priority. Her love of food is contagious and I am more interested in that aspect in this novel. Of course I can only base this opinion thinking of the other novels of hers I've read: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe and The Cafe by the Sea. The Cafe was the one I liked best.

I can't recommend this one. I am sure there are other better Jenny Colgan novels, with more character development, as this one lacked in that department.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Characters List (might contain spoilers!):
Kidinsborough, UK - Anna's hometown. her parents live there. Claire's hometown. She lived there with Richard and their boys
Anna Trent - chocolate taster at the Braders Family Chocolates factory
Cath - Anna's best friend
Darr - Anna's ex-boyfriend
Dr. Er - Anna's doctor after her work accident
Mrs. Claire Shawcourt - Anna's French teacher. the two become good friends. Claire sends Anna to Paris after her release from the hospital to work at a chocolate shop. Claire has cancer. she's divorced
Thierry Girard - Claire's lover when she was 17 and travelled to Paris to work as a nanny for the two children of her mother's pen pal. he's now sick and very fat
Le Chapeau Chocolat de Thierry Girard - Thierry's chocolate shop
Mme Marie-Noelle LeGuarde - Claire's mother's pen pal
Benoit - works for Thierry. a family job for generations
Laurent Girard - Thierry's son with an Algerian woman. she died. A fued between the two because they can't agree on the best flavour to add to chocolate
Alice - Thierry's wife. English
Rev. Marcus - Claire's father
Ricky and Patsy - Claire's son and daughter-in-law
Cadence and Codie - Ricky and Patsy's children
Richard Shawcourt - Claire's ex-husband
Sami - Ann'a flatmate in Paris

Monday, July 15, 2019

What I've Read Lately #15

Here's the latest list of the books I've read:

1. Me Before You - Jojo Moyes

Ah, this reminded me of the chick-lit and rom-coms. It was funny and sad and touchy-feely and the perfect read when you want something light, but not brainless. I am absolutely going to read the rest of the series. It was fun to read it on my way to and from London.
I am so glad the book ended the way it did. If there had been a different one it wouldn't have matched Will's character. Although I don't personally support his decision, talking about a character I am OK with it. I am now curious to see how the movie is. And to see which way is Louisa going to go. She's a darling and I adore her. Not her sister, but I like Louisa!

2. Vox - Christina  Dalchan
I liked this one a lot, it kept me interested and it has the specific atmosphere of a dystopian novel. I don't necessarily like the ending, too nice, but it made for a good read. I heard it was compared to The Handmaid's Tale, but I haven't read that one, so I can't say.

3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  - J. K. Rowling
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J. K. Rowling
And after 12 years since it was published, here I am, reading Harry Potter and enjoying the series a lot! I have tried before to read them, but I think the fact that they were translated stopped me from finishing even the first chapter. Now? I plan to read them all!
I plan to take a small break from HP until fall, but I can say that this is no longer a children's book. Poor Harry! He sure is strong and brave. This series is smart, and funny, and action packed. So far #4 was a bit boring at first what with the Quidditch Championship, but after that it all connected and I read it with a lot more interest. 
I am curious where the story will go now. Yes, I know some spoilers, but I am still interested.
PS. Of the first four books, #1 and #3 were favourites.

6. The Summer I Turned Pretty - Jenny Han
7. It's Not Summer Without You - Jenny Han
8. We'll Always Have Summer - Jenny Han
Well, this one didn't take long to finish. The author of To All the Boys I've Loved Before managed to keep me into this series, just like she did with To All the Boys. However, The Summer... is clearly an earlier writing; you can tell she matured her style and became better in To All the Boys.
This series is per-fect! for summer days. I finished the whole series in a week, I just couldn't stop reading. I can't say that I had a favourite character because they all had their faults, but I liked that there wasn't a pretty ending during the high-school, teenage years; that was smart! 

This must be the summer of series. I have read the first two books in the Once Upon a Summer series by Janette Oke, and I am currently reading the third. This is the sort of book I can read during the idle-ish months of summer. It's the perfect world of 1800 or early 1900 when people were nice, communities were tight, people belived in God, young people had respect for their elders, and adults looked after their children's well-being. 
Unlike other books by Janette Oke I have read, this is told from the perspective of an orphaned 11-12 year old boy who lives with his Grandpa, Uncle and Aunt. As the series progresses the boy is at different ages, dealing with the struggles and thoughts specific to each age. It's a darling series, a rather fast read, and the right one for me these days. 

These are the books I've read over the last few months. The ones I read for Net Galley are not listed here are they have their own separate posts which can be found under the net galley tag on the blog.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Campusland - by Scott Johnston: Book Review

Title: Campusland. A novel
Author: Scott Johnston
Pages: 331
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 13.08.2019
Genre: Humour, Campus Novel
Format: Kindle

This novel is so frustrating! It annoys me and it irks me! A few times I considered not finishing it, but I was curious to see where the plot will go. The characters are aggravating! At the same time you have to appreciate how well they are formed so as to stay true to the nature the author created for them.

Campusland presents various aspects of the academic life at a liberal university, but way outside the classroom. It focuses on the social issues that we all see everyday discussed in the news, but (I like to think! Lord help us!) exaggerated. It's a satire, and the tone is oftentimes mocking; Devon has the airs, but lacks the substance. It also has a large number of committees that like acronyms; inevitably you forget their meaning eventually.

It's also meant to come across as funny, and at times it is, but a dry humour. My favourite! It's mostly cringy and frustrating. I appreciate the satirical way in showing how all the social issues associations try to climb at the top to show their group matters the most. Their desire to make a protest out of anything and "fight over who is more offended" leads to unhealthy outcomes. Eph's career and reputation is tarnished because a bunch of drunk, stupid students think it's a good joke to accuse him of being racist because he teaches Huckleberry Finn (!!!), and a fame avid socialite decides to name Eph her sexual assailant just because she needs a name - well all these made me sick. The way characters dealt with even the smallest straw thrown towards their cause, and the way feminists on campus made everything worse through their desire to protect a "saviour" is meant to be a reflection of the way society deals with serious issues. I fear that this way of presenting things can be seen as mocking the real, serious, harming issues happening every day on campuses and not only.

It's hard to say if I like this novel. I appreciate how it made me care and it drew me in and it made me have opinions and it aggravated me. Argh!  I don't think this novel did any good for the real problems in our society, to be honest. I tend to agree that the way things are approached is not always the wisest because there's a lot of noise, but little desire to listen and come to a helpful solution; every party holds its ground and stays mad at the other people. Maybe this novel was a means to draw attention to this very thing. All that to say - if you like campus novels, or like reading novels about the university life, maybe this is for you. I continue to have mixed feelings. As far as the stars rating goes, I'd give it a 2.5*  

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Part of the way down Mathers, a familiar voice cut through the chanting. “Lulu, what the fuck are you doing?” It was Shelley. Lulu kept crawling, eyes focused on nothing. “I had to see for myself. You know damn well this is bullshit. Do you hear me?” Pythia Kamal quickly interceded. “How dare you. Lulu’s a survivor. We honor survivors on this campus!” “Kiss my ass. No one is buying this, Lulu. And, not that I really care, but when your bullshit is exposed, you’re only going to make it harder for real victims to come forward. What about them?” Several people stepped up and surrounded Shelley. “You need to leave. Now. This is a peaceful march,” said one male student, striding toward Shelley, just thrust out. 

That she was, behind the scenes, falsely accusing someone had given her pause at the start. The feeling passed. Collateral damage was acceptable in every war, even if this was a war about which she didn’t particularly care.


Characters List (contains spoilers!):
Devon University - private research university, Havenport, New England
Milton Strauss - Devon president
D'Arcy - Milton's administrative assistant
Ephraim Eph Russell - 19th century American Lit professor. promised tenure. the centre of drama created by students
Titus O'Cooley - chair of the English Department
Louise Lulu Harris - socialite. instigates drama. initiator of #CrawlPeace
Song - Lulu's roommate
Sheldon Harris - Lulu's father. Devon alumni. rich. Hollywood lawyer
Camille Thornton/ April Gilmartin - Lulu's mother. she left Lulu and Sheldon soon after Lulu's birth. became an actress. Lulu and her are now together in making Lulu's cause known to the world and catch the media's attention
Yolanda Perez - Lulu's RA. convinces Lulu to "admit" and give the name of her sexual assailant.
Aldrich Red Wheeler - has been at Devon for seven years. activist/ social issues demonstrations & protests instigator
Foster Jennison - important alumni. gives large sums of money to Devon. Red's grandfather
Shelley Kisher - a junior. part of the Fellinghams
Winslow Gublins/ Win/ Winny - head of the Fellinghams Society = a sort of fraternity but male and female inclusive - the members are from the upper class
Sophie Blue Feather - poetry professor, tenured, pangenderist
Prof. Barrett Toes Smallwood - English prof, is given tenure instead of Eph due to the scandal surrounding him
Jaylen Biggs - head of the Afro-American Cultural Centre
Wendy Faircloth - works at the On the Avenue, the posh magazine Lulu wants to appear in
Martika Malik Adams - dean of diversity. Has it for Eph to frame it, despite Lulu admitting she lied.
Jack Russell - Eph's brother. died in Afghanistan. he was their father's favourite
Ellie - Eph's sister
Big Mike & Millie - Eph's parents
Stillman Weathers - Devon alumni. not pleased how Milton runs the university. gives a lot of money

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt - by Andrea Bobotis: Book Review

Title: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
Author: Andrea Bobotis
Pages: 320
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Release Date: July 9th 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Kindle

What power things had over me! 

As I look back, I wonder what made our house a home for me. Was it my family? Or was it the things in their proper place?

Judith Kratt, the oldest child of the Kratt family which used to be the richest and most feared family in Bound, South Carolina in the 1920s, decides to do an inventory of all the things her family has gathered over the years. Her love for them is deeply ingrained. Oh, the things we learn due to this inventory!

This is a slow burn story, but it consumes you and you keep kindling the flame because you are now part of the Kratts and part of Bound, South Carolina.

Compiling an inventory of a house, like Miss Judith Kratt intends to do, takes time - and so does telling the story of a family through the objects. You need to be in a certain mind frame, so to say, to read this novel. Yes, there is racism, but keep in mind it's the years 1929 and 1989. Yes, there are few, if any, likeable characters, but this makes them all the more intriguing. Yes, it may seem to drag, but bit by bit the tapestry of a whole family and town is revealed through the power of objects. It's the typical Southern family story: the father acting like the leader who instills fear in all, the meek mother who mostly keeps to herself, but still has a confidante, and the children who seem to grow without any of the parents' attention.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Actually, I find it hard to come up with something I didn't like about it. Maybe I could say that it did seem to have a slow pace, and the "mystery" surrounding some characters was too thin, therefore Rosemarie's shock, Miss Judith's youngest sister, is hardly believable. By the half point, through all the flashbacks and the shared memories, the reader can easily see where the story is going and figure out the secret.

The novel has 14 chapters that tell the story of the Kratt family, the richest and most important family in Bound, a small town in South Carolina. The narrative line alternates between 1929 and 1989. The memories, the stories, and the history of the objects that come into focus reveal the underlying parts of each family member. I have realised this is a favourite way for me to discover the story of a person, family or town. It's like an onion: you find more and more stories. At times, apparently without realising it, the narrator gives pieces of information and gradually you piece them all together so that in the end you have the whole Kratt puzzle figured out. It's helpful that although the story alternates past-present day, it keeps an approximate chronological timeline in revealing the family history.

As far as the characters go, there isn't anyone I liked. They just are, but this makes them human and you accept them for who they are. Miss Judith, who we learn has never left her house in the last sixty years, has all the traits to make her irritating, but you can hardly keep anything against her. Rosemarie tried to cope with what she thought she understood as she saw fit. Olva was caught between two worlds and two families, not fully knowing on whose side she ought to stand.

As for the writing, it's poetic at times, simplistic other times. There were some sentences lacking a verb, and although I think I understand the aesthetic purpose, it's bothersome when reading. In this sense, it would have flowed better if there were some semicolons or an alternative writing structure or style.

All in all, I had a good time reading this novel. It's for those who like stories set in the South, especially since it reminds so well of the American Southern classics and the time period usually tackled in those novels. Not to mention, it's perfect for a slow afternoon when the heat is almost unbearable and you lay in the shadow drinking iced tea.

3 1/2 *
I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.


Characters List (contains spoilers!):
Bound, South Carolina
Daddy Brayburn Kratt - richest man in town, owns a department store and cotton gins
Mama Rosemarie Kratt - Daddy's wife. quiet person. died of a hear attack. lived with
Judith Kratt - the oldest child. takes the blame for Olva.
Quincy Kratt - the boy. killed by Olva on December 20th 1929.
Rosemarie Kratt - the youngest child. very beautiful. thinks Judith killed Quincy because she saw her with the gun after she took it from Olva. left Bound immediately after. did not return for 60 years. Helped Olva learn about her father's family. left as soon as she learned the truth.
Aunt Dee - unmarried, Mama's sister. She knows about Mama and Charlie. died of a heart attck
Charlie - a handyman. works at the store
Charlie + Mama = Olva, a child born a year before Judith
Shep Bramlett - Daddy Kratt's business partern. will eventually buy Daddy out and will lead to Daddy's downfall. Shep sexually attacked Rosemarie when she was 13 years old.
Byrd Parker - Daddy Kratt's business rival
Byrd's wife committed suicide. She had had an affair with a Negro man and she was pregnant.
Mr. and Mrs. Greenley - the butcher and his wife
Mr. Burn - the milliner
Ima - the Kratt's cook
Marcus - paperman. related to Olva, but we only learn this later on
Amaryllis - Marcus' daughter
Dovey Aikens - girl Quincy loved. they two had a child, but we learn nothing about it
the five Sullivan daughters - poor. had many children
Jolly and Vi - Shep's daughters
Rick - Jolly's son. he owns a store, a small and unprofitable version of the store his grandfather bought from Daddy Kratt. Shep had no business sense and the store soon lost its glory.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Lido - by Libby Page: Book Review

Title: The Lido. A novel
Author: Libby Page
Pages: 384
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: July 10th 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Format: Kindle

The beginning drew me in, but as the novel progresses the pace slows down. What makes it slower is all the flashbacks and reminiscence Rosemary has. It's too much at times and it adds up to slow and dull patches. The writing is very simplistic, although it tries to be... interesting, I guess, with turns of phrases. If the writer continues to write maybe she'll get better at it. It reminded me very, very little of Fredrik Backman, as the inner cover said.

Although I understand and empathise with Kate, I think her Panic and her insecurities are too easily dealt with. Yes, friends to push you more, something to challenge you profesionally, something to do outside work, and people you enjoy spending time with - all these are important. But for some, Panic doesn't get to be locked away and banished so easily. It was also pretty obvious that the lido will help Kate feel more at ease. A too simple solution.

The story was told alternatingly so as to present Kate's and Rosemary's  lives. Rosemary and George's love story and marriage are nice to read about, but then it became boring; the same thing told with different words and snapshots of their lives. I wish we were told more about them other than their going to the pool and their marriage bliss. There are also a number of characters the author didn't focus a lot, but enough to make the reader see that the lido is the collection of all the people who use its facilities and it's at the centre of the community. I wish we learned more about some of them. Less about Rosemary and more about the others.

The story as a nice beach read. I admit, though, that at times I needed a break because of the repetititve tone. The community portrayed is that of a small town; actually, even smaller. A pocket community in a bustling city. It was a nice look back on all the traditional institutions of a small community: the lido, of course, the library, the cafe, the small newspaper, the park, the same familiar faces of the people you always bump into. But it's weird that everyone is so nice all the time, and when they are in the wrong they make up for their mistake without being prompt. And on the same note, there is hardly a conflict. The closing of the lido, which is "the conflict" is predictable. Rosemary's words towards the end "It's over." rose absolutely no emotion within me. That's not the expected response from a reader, I dare say. Even the proposition and the "presentation" Rosemary gives at the big, fancy advertising company is shallow. It must be a novel if they fall for her simple words. The author's observations take up more than all Rosemary had to say.

This is a slow paced novel, cute and sweet, good for when you want to read a bit, it's a nice one for a slow day by the pool, or any body of water, actually. I had higher expectations from it, though.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Red Dove, Listen to the Wind - by Sonia Antaki: Book Review

Title: Red Dove, Listen to the Wind
Author: Sonia Antaki
Pages: 232
Publisher: One ELM Press
Release Date: 15th October 2019
Genre: Middle Grade, Own Voices
Format: Kindle

Red Dove, Listen to the Wind by Sonia Antaki is a needed middle grade novel about the ways Native Americans are treated. It shows the 13 year old's perspective of how things unfold, and her confusion as she strives to obey her ancestors and family, but is pulled away from her heritage.

The novel follows Red Dove's story as she is sent to a Catholic school for girls. She's separated from her brother and she's left to figure out the new world by herself. She has help along the way, but the main idea is that she always has the help of her ancestors, just like her grandfather said. 

There are a lot of native names and those are confusing for one who's not used to them, not to mention all the objects that carry so much power and meaning for them. The writing is also at times confusing, and so is the telling of the fights and clashes between the whites and the natives. 

However, for a Native American and for a white person this is a wonderful step of seeing things from a different perspective than we're used to. It's also a great way for young people of other cultures than American/ European to see themselves represented in literature.

I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.